Star of stage and screen, singer and red-carpet darling Billy Porter announced in an essay in The Hollywood Reporter that he is HIV-positive and has been for the last 14 years.
“Having lived through the plague, my question was always, ‘Why was I spared? Why am I living?’” Porter, 51, pondered in the piece. “Well, I’m living so that I can tell the story. There’s a whole generation that was here, and I stand on their shoulders. I can be who I am in this space, at this time, because of the legacy that they left for me. So, it’s time to put my big boy pants on and talk.”
And talk he did, especially about 2007, the year he calls the worst of his life.
“I was the generation that was supposed to know better, and it happened anyway,” he continued in the essay. “I was on the precipice of obscurity for about a decade or so, but 2007 was the worst of it. By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive.”
Porter, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in drama, appeared on “Star Search” in 1992 and won $100,000. He went on to build a successful career both on and off-Broadway. If things had slowed down for Porter by 2007, as he claimed, the years that followed would be good ones. Porter won the 2013 Tony Award for best actor in a musical when he originated the role of Lola in “Kinky Boots.” Singing on the show’s soundtrack helped him snatch a Grammy.
Undoubtedly his biggest role to date is Pray Tell, the character his plays on the FX original series “Pose.” In 2019, Porter won a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor for his portrayal. The award means he’s only an Oscar short of attaining EGOT status.
Busier than ever today, Porter is winding up the third and final season of “Pose.” He’s also been tapped to play the fairy godmother in a new live-action “Cinderella” remake and has a role in “Love, Simon,” director Greg Berlanti’s spin on “Little Shop of Horrors.” He is also writing two books, a memoir and a children’s book.
The success has aided Porter in setting aside the stigma and shame he said he carried for years.
“There’s no more stigma — let’s be done with that,” Porter continued in THR. “It’s time. I’ve been living it and being in the shame of it for long enough. And I’m sure this will follow me. I’m sure this is going to be the first thing everybody says, ‘HIV-positive blah, blah, blah.’ OK. Whatever. It’s not the only thing I am. I’m so much more than that diagnosis.”
Porter spoke to Pride Source’s Chris Azzopardi last fall about being Black and gay in the entertainment industry.
“I’ve never really had a place where I have felt comfortable and embraced fully by any community,” he said. “The racism that exists in the LGBTQ community is at the top of the list. They’re fucking racists just like everybody else. Inside that community, there’s racism. And inside the Black community, there’s homophobia.”
But Black, gay and now openly HIV-positive — each is just one of Porter’s many facets.
“As a Black person, particularly a Black man on this planet, you have to be perfect or you will get killed,” Porter said. “But look at me. Yes, I am the statistic, but I’ve transcended it.”
Porter said much of the same to Azzopardi, even if he hadn’t come out as HIV-positive yet.
“Don’t wait for anybody to give you permission to be who you are. Just be it. Just be it and let those motherfuckers catch up. I said, ‘When you catch up, you’ll figure it out.’ But that’s not my journey. Y’all need to catch up. I’m not the problem. We have to stop thinking that we’re the problem. We’re made to feel like we’re the problem and we need to be fixed,” Porter said. “No. Y’all are the problem. If you have a problem with my authenticity, that’s your stuff that I will no longer take on or receive, and I’m going to make sure that I sit in the fullness of myself and give that 100 percent, no matter where the chips may fall.”