Billy Porter revealed that he was been living HIV since June 2007 in The Hollywood Reporter’s May 19 cover story.
The actor said that 2007 was a hard year for him because he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and filed for bankruptcy. The shame of then receiving an HIV diagnosis as a gay Black man pushed him into silence.
“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,” Porter told the publication. “HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment.”
In 2019, Porter made history as the first Black openly gay man to win the Emmy award for lead actor in a drama series. His role as Pray Tell is also an HIV-positive character on the FX series POSE.
Porter used the breakout role as a way to express his status with the world in a figurative way. He believed that people knowing would lead to more discrimination. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he spent much time reevaluating his response to his diagnosis.
“For a long time, everybody who needed to know, knew — except for my mother,” he told THR. “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. So I tried to think about it as little as I could. I tried to block it out. But quarantine has taught me a lot.”
Porter was ready to share with the world because “shame is destructive” and he wants people to know that living with HIV is not the death sentence it once was. “I survived so that I could tell the story. That’s what I’m here for,” he said. “I’m the vessel, and emotionally that was sufficient — until it wasn’t.”
Porter has undetectable levels of the virus in his system thanks to medical advances. “This is what HIV-positive looks like now,” the POSE star said.
The hit series is now in its third and final season.