By David T. Valentin
In an interview with THR’s Executive Editor Lacey Rose, Billy Porter has revealed he has been living HIV positive for 14 years and that he will no longer live in shame and secrecy with the disease.
The 51-year-old actor, musical performer, and activist is a vivacious spirit who has served as a positive role model to queer people all over the world. He won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical and the Outer Critics Circle Award. For work in TV and movies he has won a Golden Globe Award, 2019 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama series and has even been named Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2020.
But between being a gender defying icon, brilliant actor, and a voice to the queer community, Billy Porter has kept his illness under wraps due for most of his career because of the shame and guilt surrounding the disease.
“I was the generation that was supposed to know better, and it happened anyway,” Billy Porter said.
Despite a better understanding of the disease and increasing acceptance of LGTQ+ people in America at the time, Porter explains that he was afraid to tell the wrong people of his HIV positivity—afraid that it would ruin his career and his life.
“For a long time, everybody who needed to know, knew – except for my 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.”
Porter went on to explain his sudden shift from shame to acceptance during lockdown and the pandemic. Because of his pre-existing condition, Porter and his husband rented a house out in Long Island to protect himself.
“I tried to block it out. But quarantine has taught me a lot. Everybody was required to sit down and shut the fuck up,” Billy Porter said.
Throughout the years, Porter speaks of how he’s been on and off when It comes to therapy, especially considering the trauma surrounding his upbringing. But he says 2020 really was the year where he began to really get down to the nitty gritty and go through trauma healing.
“The truth is the healing. And I hope this frees me. I hope this frees me so that I can experience real, unadulterated joy, so that I can experience peace, so that I can experience intimacy, so that I can have sex without shame. This is for me. I’m doing this for me. “
Finally facing his truth, Porter explained to his mother his secret and the predicament of his life for the past 14 years living with HIV. Porter said, “She said, ‘You’ve been carrying this around for 14 years? Don’t ever do this again. I’m your mother, I love you no matter what. And I know I didn’t understand how to do that early on, but it’s been decades now.’”
Finally living his truth, Billy Porter’s resilience in the face of so much adversity is yet another reason the celebrity is such an inspiring figure to the queer community today. That despite the pain, the trauma and the shame, queer people can not only come out on top, but stronger because of it.
“There’s no more stigma,” Porter says. “Let’s be done with that.”