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Stigma

Eurovision Winner Conchita Wurst Reveals She’s HIV-Positive

Conchita Wurst

After an ex threatened to go public about her status, the renowned performer took matters into her own hands. 

Austrian singer and drag performer Conchita Wurst hit international fame after winning the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Rise Like A Phoenix.” Since that time, Wurst has become a staunch advocate — speaking at the United Nations, promoting tolerance and fighting against the discrimination of LGBT people, and traveling across America using her platform to speak on the ideas of beauty and gender.

Wurst (whose real name is Thomas Neuwirth, and goes by he/him pronouns when out of character) has again been put in the spotlight after revealing she’s living with HIV.

While the 29-year-old performer intended on keeping the information private, she decided to speak on it after an ex-boyfriend had “threatened to go public” about the information. In a lengthy Instagram post, the singer said, "Coming out is better than being outed by a third party.”

Wurst also wrote, "I will not give anyone the right to frighten me and influence my life," ending the post by saying that she hopes "to give others courage and to take another step against the stigmatization of people" are also living with HIV.

The practice of using someone’s HIV status as blackmail to “out” them publicly is a sad, yet all-too-common practice. Often times, ex-partners use this information to threaten one’s livelihood.  HIV criminalization laws in the United States sometimes make extortion work, if an ex claims they weren't told their partner was living with HIV. HIV criminalization laws are on the books in 35 states and U.S. territories and lead to prison sentences of upward of 20 years. 

According to The Center for HIV Law & Policy, as pointed out by Huffington Post, between 2008 and 2015, there have been at least 226 reported prosecution cases based on state laws that either directly or indirectly deem the potential and the unlikely transmission of HIV a crime, rising to at least 279 by the end of 2016.

Neuwirth is no stranger to threats. In an interview with The Advocate, he said several countries criticized not only his drag queen appearance but also his identity as a gay man. As a result, petitions were launched to have him removed from Eurovision or edited out of the TV broadcasts in their homeland. 

“I wasn’t surprised people started to speak out against me, but I was surprised they were putting so much effort into it, and it just reminded me that what I was doing was important,” Neuwirth said. “In Europe, when people think of drag queens they think of a tall man in a dress, with glitter, lashes, and big hair. That’s why so many people were confused by my interpretation of drag. Especially when it came to straight men, because when they look at a drag queen, or me from the back, they can still have the same fantasy. But when I turn around it raises other questions and some people, well, they just can’t handle that.” 

Ian Green, chief executive of the AIDS charity The Terrence Higgins Trust, pointed out to BBC that one’s “decision to talk openly about your HIV status should be a personal one and not taken away or ever, ever used as a threat.” 

He added, "Threatening to reveal someone's HIV status, under any circumstances, is entirely wrong. What other health condition would be used as blackmail against someone? And we know this isn't something which only happens to those in the public eye." Still, Green said Wurst handled the threat with “dignity” while attempting to "tackle the abhorrent stigma" around HIV. 

By revealing his HIV status, Neuwirth will undoubtedly shine a light on the stigma. For the performer, artistry and visibility matter. 

“I truly believe artists should never hold back because of fear,” he said to The Advocate, speaking of the 2015 terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. “Fear is like poison and I know if I ever gave in to that I would not be the same performer. We have to continue to fight against such things and that’s exactly what I want to achieve — to help people realize we don’t have to agree with everyone’s opinions, but we do need to respect one another, and we can achieve anything no matter who we are or how we look.”

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David Artavia

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Ryan is the Digital Director of The Advocate Channel, and a graduate of NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing. She is also a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. While her specialties are television writing and comedy, Ryan is a young member of the LGBTQ+ community passionate about politics and advocating for all.

Ryan is the Digital Director of The Advocate Channel, and a graduate of NYU Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing. She is also a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. While her specialties are television writing and comedy, Ryan is a young member of the LGBTQ+ community passionate about politics and advocating for all.