Billy Porter reveals he is HIV-positive: ‘Truth is the healing’

“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,” said 'Pose' star Billy Porter.

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Billy Porter is done carrying a 14 year-old secret. 

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that was published Wednesday, the 51-year-old performing artist revealed his HIV-positive status for the first time. In his own words, Porter describes the process he went through to share his status with his mother, Pose crew members, and now, the world. 

Billy Porter
Billy Porter attends the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

“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,” says Porter. 

“The world needs to know what HIV positive looks like. There was a whole generation that was here and I stand on their shoulders. I can be who I am in this space and in this time and in this world because of the legacy that they left for me.” 

Read More: ‘Pose’ to be honored at Human Rights Campaign’s virtual event Time for Equality Live

Porter was diagnosed HIV positive in 2007—a year he says was the worst in his life since it was already packed with health and financial challenges. After receiving his diagnosis, Porter resolved to only tell a select few people who “needed to know”, which at the time, did not include his mother or professional peers. 

“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,” says Porter. 

Billy Porter
(Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for 5B)

Porter has shared more about the extent to which his own life informs the character of Pray Tell on the hit FX series Pose. Like the ballroom emcee, Porter grew up in a strict religious household, was sexually abused as a child, and had estranged relationships with the father figures in his life. The Emmy, Grammy, and Tony award winner also said that he delayed sharing his status with his mother partly because he wanted to protect her from further judgment and persecution from her church community. 

“[Pose was] an opportunity to work through the shame [of HIV] and where I have gotten to in this moment. And the brilliance of Pray Tell and this opportunity was that I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate,” says Porter. 

As the third and final season of Pose airs, Porter is preparing for other projects including a memoir, a Netflix documentary in collaboration with television producer, Ryan Murphy, and a role as the fairy godparent in Amazon Studios’ Cinderella

Read More: ‘Proud Family’ reboot to star Billy Porter, Zachary Quinto as gay couple

For now, Porter is living in his truth.

“It wasn’t a fear that [my status] was going to come out or that somebody was going to expose me; it was just the shame that it had happened in the first place,” says Porter. 

“And as a Black person, particularly a Black man on this planet, you have to be perfect or you will get killed. But look at me. Yes, I am the statistic, but I’ve transcended it. This is what HIV-positive looks like now.” 

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