Billy Porter speaks out about HIV diagnosis after more than a decade of living with the virus

'I survived so that I could tell the story. That’s what I’m here for.'
May 19, 2021 1:12 p.m. EST
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Billy Porter has a story to tell and it's the most personal thing he's ever shared publicly. He explained the news is something he's been keeping hidden from nearly everyone in his life for the last 14 years.

In his new Hollywood Reporter profile, the multihyphenate opened up for the first time about his HIV-positive diagnosis and the "shame" that kept him from telling his story for so long.

“I have to start in 2007,” Porter told THR. “In June of that year I was diagnosed HIV-positive,” he said, revealing that he’d used his Pose character Pray Tell as a kind of vehicle through which he’s been able to address the AIDS epidemic. The time, however, has come for him to talk about his own experience.

In an essay he penned for the magazine, Porter wrote that the reason he’s survived is so that he “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,” he explained.

Porter revealed that it was shame that kept him silent about the subject for so many years, even though he understands the danger in that stigma. 

“I was the generation that was supposed to know better, and it happened anyway. It was 2007, the worst year of my life,” he wrote. “By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive."

"The shame of that time compounded with the shame that had already [accumulated] in my life silenced me, and I have lived with that shame in silence for 14 years.”

"HIV-positive, where I come from,” Porter explained, “growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment.”

Others' stigmatization, too, added to Porter’s fear of speaking out. “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 writes. He couldn’t even tell his own mother.

Somewhat ironically, it was COVID and the resulting lockdown that allowed Porter to contemplate the meaning of his diagnosis.

This pandemic, he says, “created a safe space for me to stop and reflect and deal with the trauma in my life. Now, I’ve been in therapy for a long time. I started when I was 25, and I’ve been going on and off for years. But in the last year, I started real trauma therapy to begin the process of healing.”

That kind of therapy finally allowed Porter to be honest with those he loves the most, including his mom. When he told her, she replied “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.”

With this personal healing has also manifested what seems like dozens of projects once the star wraps the third and final season of Pose. New music, an autobiography, a Ryan Murphy-helmed documentary detailing his personal and professional life, and an upcoming live-action Cinderella in which Porter plays Cindy’s fairy godmother, naturally. 

Porter, who says that he’s currently the healthiest he’s been in his entire life, has learned to recognize what’s good for him: letting go of shame, leaning into joy, and sticking with his regularly scheduled doctors appointments. He’s also figured out the reason why he continues to survive. 

“I survived so that I could tell the story. That’s what I’m here for,” he writes. “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.”


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