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Billy Porter

Billy Porter opens up about living with HIV

‘This is what HIV-positive looks like now’

Billy Porter has revealed that he has been living with HIV for the past 14 years. In a new interview with the Hollywood Reporter, the Emmy-winning star of Pose opened up about his experiences of trauma, including being sexually abused by his stepfather, and described how shame and fear of discrimination led him to hide his HIV-positive diagnosis from friends, co-workers, and his mother.

Following his diagnosis in June 2007, Porter says that a numer of factors influenced his decision to keep quiet including his upbringing in the Pentecostal church which views HIV/Aids as “God’s punishment” for being gay; fear that he would be discriminated against in an “already discriminatory profession”; and the shame that surrounded HIV/Aids during that time. “I was the generation that was supposed to know better, and it happened anyway,” he says. 

It was only when he started working on Pose, where he plays HIV-positive character Pray Tell, that he began to start working through the shame and come to terms with his condition, although nobody involved with the show knew he was drawing from his own life in his portrayal. “The brilliance of Pray Tell and this opportunity was that I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate,” he says.

Porter also shared how difficult it was to reveal the news to his mother. “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,’” he says. “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.” Despite his fears, however, when he did tell her, she told him she loved him no matter what. Porters says in that moment it felt like his heart was being released from a clenched fist and it enabled him to feel like he could share the news with his co-stars on Pose and now with the public. 

Porter’s interview comes ahead of exciting things to come for the actor and fashion aficionado. While Pose is ending after the upcoming third season, a Netflix documentary about Porter’s life is on its way as well as a memoir, a directorial debut, new music, and a starring role in Cinderella.  

“Having lived through the plague, my question was always, ‘Why was I spared? Why am I living?’ 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.”

Read the full interview here.