In a cover story for The Hollywood Reporter, Pose star Billy Porter reveals that he was diagnosed with HIV in June 2007 but kept it a secret for years from nearly 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,” Porter said. “It would just be another way for people to discriminate against me in an already discriminatory profession.”
He called 2007 his worst year, saying he already had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and signed bankruptcy papers.
“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,” he said.
Porter credits his HIV-positive Pose character, Pray Tell, with helping him come to terms with his real-life diagnosis.
“An opportunity to work through the shame [of HIV] and where I have gotten to in this moment,” Porter explained. “And the brilliance of Pray Tell and this opportunity was that I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate.”
“But the truth shall set you free. I feel my heart releasing,” Porter reflected. “It had felt like a hand was holding my heart clenched for years — for years — and it’s all gone. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time.”
Now the healthiest he’s ever been, Porter says he is focusing on the future.
“So it’s time to let all that go and tell a different story,” he said. “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.”
DaShawn Usher, associate director, communities of color, at GLAAD adds:
“The tremendous levels of stigma facing people living with HIV today can only be broken by icons like Billy Porter showing the world that HIV is not at all a barrier to a healthy and successful life. People living with HIV today, when on effective treatment, lead long and healthy lives and cannot transmit HIV, plus medications like PrEP protect people who do not have HIV from contracting HIV, but these leaps in HIV prevention and treatment have largely been invisible in the news and entertainment industries. 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.”
Read Billy’s whole story here.