Gareth Thomas, one of the first professional athletes in the UK to publicly come out gay, is leading Tackle HIV, a new campaign to combat the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding HIV.

Last year, Thomas announced that he's HIV positive and that blackmailers had threatened to expose him. The revelation was followed by the BBC Wales documentary Gareth Thomas: HIV and Me.

Speaking with UK glossy Attitude, Thomas said that he assumed his HIV diagnosis was a death sentence.

“I thought I was going to die when I was diagnosed with HIV,” Thomas said. “The first thing I considered was how long I had left to live and I was going to be able to tell my parents. I had a whole learning process in front of me and it took me some time, because for a while during my hospital visits I wasn’t listening to what they were saying because I didn’t want to be in the hospital, I didn’t want to be seen in the hospital, I just wanted to get in and out. It was a long, long process for me to finally listen and be educated.”

When asked whether he's faced stigma over his status, Thomas answered: “I feel there’s a lot of stigmatized language actually within the gay community. A friend of mine found a lot of the negativity was coming from the gay community and people shunning him and asking whether he’s ‘clean’. That has such a negative connotation and in a community where people are at high risk of having HIV, they should understand the power of derogatory language more than anyone else. It’s embedded in the community and we’ve allowed that to become the way we ask the question. That’s one thing I want to try and get people to change: if you want to know whether someone is living with HIV, ask them if they’re living with HIV. Don’t ask them if they’re ‘clean.'”

Thomas, 46, also criticized people who consider HIV to be a “deal-breaker” in a partner.

“If you have the knowledge you’d realize that if somebody is living with HIV and on effective treatment, there is no risk of that person transmitting HIV,” Thomas said. “The fact that people might not want to have a relationship with someone who has HIV and is on effective treatment doesn’t make sense. All it says to me is that they either don’t know the facts or don’t believe them.”

“My husband is HIV-negative and we have an active sex life,” he added.