On Wednesday, Billy Porter revealed he was diagnosed with HIV in 2007, and he’s sharing it now in hopes of helping break down the stigma that surrounds it.
The announcement was made in an emotional 12-minute Hollywood Reporter interview, with the 51-year-old detailing the moment he found out about the diagnosis, saying:
“It was 2007, the worst year of my life. I was on the precipice of obscurity for about a decade or so, but 2007 was the worst of it. By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive. The shame of that time compounded with the shame that had already in my life silenced me, and I have lived with that shame in silence for 14 years.”
One of the main reasons he carried so much “shame” with him was due to his hometown, as he explained:
“HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment.”
The performer actually had no plans of going public with this news — until recently when he had a change of heart:
“For a long time, everybody who needed to know, knew — except for my mother. 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.”
Billy had yet to tell his momma, Cloerinda Ford, because of the further “persecution” she would face in her church community due to “queerness.” But it sounds like she handled the news quite well, as he added:
“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.’”
Phew! That’s so lovely to hear!
A post shared by Billy Porter (@theebillyporter)
What’s also particularly interesting about this news is that Billy has had the privilege to tell the story of an HIV-positive person’s life on Pose for the last three years. While nobody on the cast or crew knew about his personal connection to the character Pray Tell (portrayed in inset above), the Tony winner was glad to still speak out on these important issues while he remained quiet about his own diagnosis. He expressed:
“I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate.”
But now he’s ready to live his full authentic truth:
“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. There’s a whole generation that was here, and I stand on their shoulders. I can be who I am in this space, at this time, because of the legacy that they left for me. So it’s time to put my big boy pants on and talk.”
Reacting to the brave announcement, GLAAD posted a statement on their website calling for media outlets to take action and help to better represent what living with HIV looks like today. It’s an especially important topic because with Pose coming to an end this year, there will be no HIV-positive characters on TV. DaShawn Usher, Associate Director for Communities of Color at the organization wrote:
“When the groundbreaking show Pose goes off air in a few weeks, there will be zero television characters living with HIV. That is truly unacceptable when 1.2 million Americans and about 38 million people globally are living with HIV. Billy’s powerful interview needs to be a wake-up call for media and the general public that it’s time to end the stigma that people living with HIV face and to educate each other about HIV prevention and treatment.”
Wow… So inspiring to see Billy courageously share his truth. He and his Pose character have had a huge impact on many viewers and LGBTQ+ individuals, so to see him continue his efforts to reach a more inclusive future is simply amazing.
You can watch the full interview (below), or read a typed-up version of his vulnerably honest announcement (HERE).
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