Yesterday Oprah Winfrey returned to Williamson, West Virginia twenty three years after her captivating interview with Mike Sisco, an openly gay man living with AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic. Sisco enraged the residents of the small West Virginia town when he decided to go for a swim in a public pool. Oprah's cameras captured the outright hatred, homophobia, and vitriol of Sisco's neighbors and much of the country towards gay men and those living with HIV/AIDS in the late eighties.
One surprising segment of the show featured former Williamson resident Eugene Thorn a family friend of Mike Sisco who is also openly gay and HIV positive.
Thorn tells Oprah: "I knew I was gay when I was six. I started looking at guys more than I looked at girls. They (people) would call me Tiffany because I could twirl a baton faster than any girl could even think about twirling a baton. So they would just be like, "Oh you're just gonna be a girl...you're just a little queen."
" I didn't know what AIDS was at the time. I got to watch the show after it aired and I said he's gay and I'm like him but I'm not saying anything."
If you're a long time Oprah Winfrey viewer or critic then you're aware of the absence of openly gay black men on her show over the years with the exception of the amazing Billy Porter and the unfortunate appearances by J.L. King and Jonathan Plummer amidst the down low hysteria, so Eugene Thorn's appearance was a big deal.
Many of the town's residents were aware of Thorn's sexual orientation prior to his national television appearance but almost no one outside of his immediate family & close friends knew about his HIV status.
"I'm HIV positive, undetectable, my family supports me and they love me and nobody frowns upon me," says Thorn. "I take my meds and I'm in great health."
Kudos to Oprah for providing a platform for Eugene to share his story and to Eugene for having the courage.
Watch Eugene's segment from The Oprah Winfrey Show below:
Eugene Thorn on Oprah
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Thanks to Jeff for the video.