Actor Billy Porter revealed on Wednesday that he is HIV positive. The 51-year-old opened up about his diagnoses in the Hollywood Reporter, sharing his personal story publicly for the first time.
Porter said he was diagnosed with HIV in June 2007. Over the next 14 years, he won Emmy, Grammy and Tony Awards and now stars on the FX series “Pose,” where he portrays Pray Tell, an HIV-positive character.
The drama about drag ball culture in the 1980s and 1990s follows African American and Latino LGBTQ characters at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
He said in portraying the character, he was able to say everything he wanted to say “through a surrogate.” No one involved with “Pose” knew Porter was drawing from his own life.
“Having lived through the plague, my question was always, ‘Why was I spared? Why am I living?,'” Porter told journalist Lacey Rose. “Well, I’m living so that I can tell the story,” he said. “So it’s time to put my big boy pants on and talk.”
Porter said at the time he was diagnosed, he was getting tested for HIV every six months “like you were supposed to,” but he was still shocked when the doctor told him he tested positive.
“For a long time, everybody who needed to know, knew — except for my mother,” Porter said. “I was trying to have a life and a career, and I wasn’t certain I could if the wrong people knew.” He said his HIV would be another way people could discriminate against him.
He’s kept his diagnosis hidden from the public since then. But during quarantine, when he was in lockdown with his husband, Adam Smith, in Long Island, and with the help of trauma-focused therapy, he started to rethink the secrecy — including his pledge to not tell his mother.
“Then I woke up on the last day of [shooting] Pose; I was writing in my gratitude journal and my mama popped into my head. I was like, ‘Let me just call her,'” he said. His mother knew something was wrong, so he “ripped the Band-Aid off,” and told her.
“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.’ And it’s all true. It’s my own shame,” he said.
Porter said he goes to the doctor every three months and he’s the healthiest he’s been his entire life. “So it’s time to let all that go and tell a different story,” he said. “There’s no more stigma — let’s be done with that. It’s time.”
After telling his mother that day, he told the cast and crew of “Pose.” “The truth is the healing. And I hope this frees me,” he said.