Billy Porter (Pic: Shutterstock)
Emmy-winning queer actor Billy Porter has spoken about overcoming the stigma and shame that held him back from being open about his HIV status.
On Wednesday, the Pose star appeared in a revealing Hollywood Reporter cover story titled This Is What HIV-Positive Looks Like Now. In the article, he broke his 14-year silence about living with HIV for the first time, revealing that he had been diagnosed back in 2007.
Porter explained that the shame behind the diagnosis left him hiding his HIV status from his castmates and even his mother.
“I was trying to have a life and a career, and I wasn’t certain I could if the wrong people knew. It would just be another way for people to discriminate against me in an already discriminatory profession,” he said.
Porter explained that the time had come for him to speak his truth. “It’s time to grow up and move on because shame is destructive — and if not dealt with, it can destroy everything in its path. And my shame was really connected to my relationship with my mother and my ex-relationship with the church.”
He said that at one time he planned to only come out as HIV positive after his mother died to avoid causing her pain.
“My mother had been through so much already, so much persecution by her religious community because of my queerness… I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I was the statistic that everybody said I would be.”
“It’s time. I’ve been living it and being in the shame of it for long enough.”
He eventually did open up to her about his condition and she responded with absolute love and support.
“It’s my own shame. Years of trauma makes a human being skittish. But the truth shall set you free. I feel my heart releasing. It had felt like a hand was holding my heart clenched for years — for years — and it’s all gone. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time,” said the star.
Porter has now let go of outdated and harmful narratives about living with HIV. “This is what HIV-positive looks like now. I’m going to die from something else before I die from that. My T-cell levels are twice yours because of this medication.
“I’m the healthiest I’ve been in my entire life. So it’s time to let all that go and tell a different story. There’s no more stigma – let’s be done with that. It’s time. I’ve been living it and being in the shame of it for long enough,” he said.
DaShawn Usher, Associate Director, Communities of Color at GLAAD applauded Porter for his openness which will help change hearts and minds.
“The tremendous levels of stigma facing people living with HIV today can only be broken by icons like Billy Porter showing the world that HIV is not at all a barrier to a healthy and successful life,” said Usher.
“People living with HIV today, when on effective treatment, lead long and healthy lives and cannot transmit HIV, plus medications like PrEP protect people who do not have HIV from contracting HIV, but these leaps in HIV prevention and treatment have largely been invisible in the news and entertainment industries,” added Usher.
“Billy’s powerful interview needs to be a wake-up call for media and the general public that it’s time to end the stigma that people living with HIV face and to educate each other about HIV prevention and treatment.”
Porter can be seen on the latest season of the groundbreaking queer series Pose, for which he won the 2019 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series – the first openly gay black man to do so. In the show he plays the character Pray Tell, who is also HIV positive.
Porter was included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 and will star as the gender non-binary Fairy Godparent Fab G in the upcoming musical romantic comedy film Cinderella.