For the first time since being diagnosed over a decade ago, Billy Porter has revealed he is HIV-positive.
The award-winning Pose actor opened up about living with HIV and why he chose to keep his status a secret all these years in a new cover story for The Hollywood Reporter. Porter explained that his positive status was confirmed in 2007, an already challenging year in which he was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes and filed for bankruptcy. The decision to to stay silent about his status, even to his mother, was motivated out of a sense of shame and a fear of being discriminated against within the industry.
"I was the generation that was supposed to know better, and it happened anyway," says Porter. "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, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God's punishment."
Porter goes on to say that playing Pray Tell in Pose, a character that is also HIV-positive, ended up serving as a sort of "surrogate" for being able to talk about and work feelings surrounding his status. Ultimately, it was the pandemic and conversations with Ryan Murphy that served as catalysts to reassess and work through years of trauma related to keeping his status a secret.
"I survived so that I could tell the story," Porter says. "That's what I'm here for. I'm the vessel, and emotionally that was sufficient — until it wasn't." Porter realized that a large of the shame stemmed from his relationship with his mother and fear that disclosing his status would bring further persecution from the church on her. Initially, Porter and his sister had planned on telling his mother once they had gotten vaccinated but it was during the last day of filming Pose that he decided to make the call.
Porter hopes that by speaking out publicly will help combat the shame and stigma surrounding being HIV-positive "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."