Billy Porter, well known for his sass and flair on the red carpet, opens up about his HIV status. For years it’s been a secret that he shared with a select few, but the weight has finally been lifted off his shoulders!
Billy Porter recently won an Emmy Award for his role as Pray Tell on the hit show Pose. The show started in 2018 and takes us on a journey into the lives of the LGBTQ+ community and their struggles during the 80s and 90s.
To anyone finding out that you’re HIV- positive would come as a shock. He found out about his status during one of his routine HIV tests he takes twice a year.
At the time, he was also facing the challenges of being recently diagnosed with Type II diabetes and filing for bankruptcy. And for Billy Porter, the news had led him down the path of shame that kept him silent for 14 years.
Growing up around religious views where a disease like HIV is seen as a punishment from God further added to his shame. Worried about his mother’s reputation in the church, he didn’t want to provide the church with ammunition with which they could persecute his mother.
“My mother had been through so much already, so much persecution by her religious community because of my queerness,” Billy Porter
Trying to preserve her reputation, he needed to find another way to tell his story to the world. Through Pray Tell, he expressed some of the turmoil he was going through, all the while keeping it a secret.
Pray Tell also works through some of the shame that accompanies the diagnosis of the disease. That way, Billy had an opportunity to channel the character and do some work of his own.
His original plan was to wait for his mother’s passing before speaking openly about his status. But after some reflection during the last year, he decided it was time to take the weight off his shoulders!
He tried to plan the perfect way to tell his mother, but ended up making a phone call on his last day on set. She had expressed her support and love for him and apologized for not being understanding any time sooner.
“I survived so that I could tell the story. That’s what I’m here for,” he said.
After taking up a significant portion of his life, he isn’t going to let the guilt and shame destroy him any longer. He’s changing the story on how HIV can control your life, and there’s no longer just the path of shame and death.
Freeing himself of this burden leaves room to focus on future endeavors; it’s all in the process of healing. Now he’s free to start a family with his spouse, Adam Smith, as they’ve been planning, without the past holding him back!
Dr Saadiqah Hajat