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Olympian Greg Louganis Changed Perceptions About Living With HIV

On World AIDS Day, remembering those lost to the virus and support for new treatments

Video: How Greg Louganis Paved the Way for Other LGBTQ Athletes

When American diver Greg Louganis hit the back of his head on the diving board at the 1988 Olympics, he worried about whether he would be able to continue to compete, but also about whether he should reveal that he was HIV-positive.

After getting four stitches, Louganis got back up on the board, and he went on to win the gold medal. But he didn’t tell anyone about his diagnosis.

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At the time, there were many misconceptions about HIV, which is the virus that causes AIDS. In many places, those who were HIV-positive faced discrimination and hostility. Louganis had been diagnosed earlier in 1988, but he kept his status secret in order to compete in the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. At the time, the country had imposed a travel ban against people with HIV.

It wasn’t until 1995 that Louganis announced he’d been living with HIV for nearly a decade.

“I’m finally free, and I can’t tell you how exhilarating that is,” he said at the time.

Today more than 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, and more than 700,000 Americans have died from HIV since 1981, according to HIV.gov. World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, is used to show support for people living with HIV and to remember those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. The first-ever global health day, World AIDS Day also calls attention to the need for new treatments and funding for research, including the search for vaccines.

“Since I came out about being gay and also HIV-positive, I’ve seen a lot of change,” Louganis told AARP.

The U.S. government spends $20 billion annually on direct health expenditures for HIV prevention and care, according to HIV.gov. While contracting HIV was once a death sentence, today many people with HIV go on to live full lives with the help of new and advanced medications that can suppress the level of virus in the body. In addition, there are drugs that can reduce the risk of infection in the first place.

After revealing his HIV status and his sexuality, Louganis went on become an activist on behalf of those who have AIDS, are HIV-positive and are part of the LGBTQ+ community. “Opening up the conversation — I think that’s been really key,” he said. “Because we’re afraid of what we don’t know.”

For more on Louganis’ story, watch the video above. ​