Billy Porter has come out as HIV-positive.
The gay Pose star told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview published Wednesday that he was diagnosed as positive in June 2007. He kept this diagnosis a secret even from his collaborators on the groundbreaking FX series, in which he portrays an HIV-positive character, Pray Tell.
“I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate,” said the 51-year-old Emmy winner.
It's a story that, as a survivor, he now feels is urgent to share with the world. “Why was I spared? Why am I living?” he said. "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."
In the interview, Porter called 2007 the worst year of his life. He was at a career lull and had just filed for bankruptcy when he got the diagnosis.
He is now a Tony winner for Kinky Boots and the first out Black man to win an Emmy award, the latter for Pose, which put Porter squarely on the map. Fourteen years after his diagnosis he’s got a major film role as the fairy godparent in Cinderella about to come out as well as a memoir and a Netflix documentary about his life with Pose's executive producer Ryan Murphy.
Porter’s experience growing up in the Pentecostal church and his desire to protect his mother from more scrutiny played into sharing his diagnosis with only a few people at first.
“My shame was really connected to my relationship with my mother and my ex-relationship with the church. My mother had been through so much already, so much persecution by her religious community because of my queerness, that I just didn’t want her to have to live through their ‘I told you so’s,’” Porter said. “I didn’t want to put her through that. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I was the statistic that everybody said I would be.”
But at a point, Porter decided he would tell the people close to him, including his mother. He's the healthiest he's been in his life and wanted to help eliminate stigma. So he told his Pose colleagues after he spoke with his mother.
“I got up in front of the cast and crew and all of the people who helped to create this space, and I told them the truth because, at a certain point, the truth is the responsible road,” he said. “The truth is the healing. And I hope this frees me.”
Read Porter's full account at The Hollywood Reporter.