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Billy Porter has revealed that he is HIV-positive – and has been living with the diagnosis for 14 years.
The 51-year-old Pose star said he finally wanted to tell people about his diagnosis to break the stigma, and to show the world what living with HIV in 2021 is actually like.
“This is what HIV-positive looks like now,” the actor revealed in a very candid interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
“I was the generation that was supposed to know better, and it happened anyway,” he continued, before going into detail about “the worst year” of his life, which ultimately led to his HIV-positive diagnosis…
“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,” he said.
“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 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.”
Billy Porter – who won a Tony Award back in 2013 for his role as Lola in Kinky Boots, and an Emmy Award in 2019 for his role as Pray Tell in Pose – also revealed that at first, he kept his diagnosis a secret from absolutely everyone; including his mother…
“I was trying to have a life and a career, and I wasn’t certain I could if the wrong people knew,” he continued.
“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.”
Pose fans will notice that art has mimicked life in this case, as his character in Ryan Murphy’s series was also diagnosed with HIV.
The actor said that the COVID-19 pandemic is what actually changed his mindset about keeping his diagnosis a secret – and he was finally able to “rip the band-aid off” and tell his mother about it, which he did on the last day of filming the final episode of Pose.
He also credited his Pose character for allowing him to get his message across through his own story…
“I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate. As a black person, particularly a black man on this planet, you have to be perfect or you will get killed. But look at me. Yes, I am the statistic, but I’ve transcended it,” he said, referencing emcee Pray Tell and his HIV diagnosis.
“This is what HIV-positive looks like now. I’m going to die from something else before I die from that. My T-cell levels are twice yours because of this medication.
“I go to the doctor now – as a black, 51-year-old man, I go to the doctor every three months. That doesn’t happen in my community. We don’t trust doctors.
“But I go to the doctor, and I know what’s going on in my body. I’m the healthiest I’ve been in my entire life.
“So it’s time to let all that go and tell a different story. There’s no more stigma – let’s be done with that. It’s time.”
We’re so glad that Billy Porter finally told his story!
You can catch Billy Porter and the rest of the sensational Pose cast on the third and final season of Pose on FX.