Pose star Billy Porter has spoken for the first time about being HIV-positive, after being diagnosed 14 years ago.
The 51-year-old, who plays sharp-tongued emcee Pray Tell in the series about the New York LGBQT community in the 1980s and 90s.
He told the Hollywood Reporter: “I was the generation that was supposed to know better, and it happened anyway. 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 (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.”
Porter said he told few people about his diagnosis, not even his mother, adding: “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.”
The actor, who won an Emmy award for Pose in 2019, said the Covid crisis made him confront his trauma, and he eventually “ripped the Band-Aid off” and told his mother on the day of filming the final episode of show.
However, he used his character in Pose as a proxy, saying: “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.
“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.
“I’ve been living it and being in the shame of it for long enough. And I’m sure this will follow me. I’m sure this is going to be the first thing everybody says, ‘HIV-positive blah, blah, blah.’ OK. Whatever. It’s not the only thing I am.
“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.”