September 29, 2011
In 2004, The Washington Post wrote an article about Matthew Cusick, an HIV-positive gay man who sued Cirque du Soleil for employment discrimination. In 2002, Cirque hired Cusick to catch the acrobats from the flying trapeze in "Mystère," a show at Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
As part of the training for this job, Cusick had to receive a physical examination, during which he disclosed that he is HIV positive. Since the doctors were so "unalarmed" about his status, he believed that his employers would view this as a nonissue. He soon realized that was not the case. One week later, he was fired after being told that he was a risk to other performers.
He told the Post, "The way they treated me, it was like I was a piece of trash."
But with the help of Lambda Legal, Cusick sued Cirque du Soleil and settled for $600,000.
Now, almost seven years later, the newspaper revisits Cusick to see how life has been since he was unjustly fired. He seems to be doing pretty well for himself:
He lives in Manhattan -- he has moved from [NYC's] Hell's Kitchen to Harlem -- and his days are jam-packed. ("I've made a new clock that has 28 hours in the day," he jokes.) He's a personal trainer with a handful of clients, and the rest of his time is divided between the Metropolitan Opera and his company KENiMATTix. Cusick has been a frequent performer at the Met since late 2004, tumbling and dancing in the likes of "Macbeth" and "La Bohème." It was there that he met fellow stunt artist Ken Berkeley, and in early 2005, the pair developed KENiMATTix -- and perform choreography in which the pair create amazing positions with their bodies, relying on strength and hand-balancing. He estimates that he and Berkeley perform 12 shows a week for both public events and private parties.
As far as his health goes, Cusick says everything is status quo. He has taken Atripla -- a pill that combines three HIV treatments in one -- since it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006. "I'm doing fine; I've really had no problems. Just still maintaining a healthy lifestyle."
So what's next? For a man who makes his living by doing dazzling and complicated stunts, the answer is pretty cut and dried: "to live a happy life."
Are you out with your status at work? Have you ever experienced any workplace stigma or discrimination? Tell us about it.
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
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