Billy Porter has revealed that he is HIV positive, having been diagnosed with the virus in June 2007.
In the wide-ranging interview, Billy Porter revealed that his recent decision to tell his mother that he has HIV after 14 years of living with the virus inspired him to go public with his experience.
The Broadway legend described 2007 as “the worst year of my life”, saying his HIV diagnosis came just months after he was told he had Type 2 diabetes. That same year, he was declared bankrupt as he teetered “on the precipice of obscurity for about a decade or so”.
“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 Hollywood Reporter.
“HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment.”
Porter’s diagnosis was a “fluke” that came about after he was treated at the Callen-Lorde clinic in New York.
“I had a pimple on my butt, and it got larger and larger and harder and harder, and then it started to hurt. One day I was like, ‘I’ve got to get this taken care of,'” Porter explained.
At the Callen-Lorde clinic, he was offered a HIV test – but the positive result left him reeling. In the years that followed, Porter vowed to only tell those who “needed to know” about his status, fearing HIV could curtail his career. He also decided to keep his diagnosis from his mother.
“I was trying to have a life and a career, and I wasn’t certain I could if the wrong people knew,” Porter explained.
“It would just be another way for people to discriminate against me in an already discriminatory profession.”
Billy Porter told his mother he has HIV over the phone on the set of Pose
Billy Porter said he has worked hard in the years since to block his HIV diagnosis out of his mind – but the period of isolation prompted by the coronavirus pandemic forced him to confront his internalised shame.
After going through trauma therapy over the last year, Porter finally decided to tell his mother about his diagnosis. He and his sister were planning to meet her in person in her nursing home to deliver the news, but in the end, he told her over the phone during his last day working on Pose.
“Not two minutes into the conversation, she’s like, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ She’s like, ‘Son, please tell me what’s wrong.’ So I ripped the Band-Aid off and I told her. 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.”
Billy Porter said there is “no more stigma” attached to HIV, adding: “I’m so much more than that diagnosis. And if you don’t want to work with me because of my status, you’re not worthy of me.”
The trailblazing actor went on to open up about his status to the cast and crew of Pose on their final day of filming.
“The truth is the healing. And I hope this frees me. I hope this frees me so that I can experience real, unadulterated joy, so that I can experience peace, so that I can experience intimacy, so that I can have sex without shame,” Porter said.