Billy Porter Shares That He's Been Living With HIV

by Kristina Johnson
Originally Published: 
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Billy Porter is ready to tell the world the secret he’s kept since 2007

Pose star Billy Porter is revealing a truth he’s been living with for years: he is HIV-positive, and has been for almost 15 years. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the actor revealed that he kept the diagnosis so secret that even his mother didn’t know until this year.

Porter told the magazine that the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS, coupled with his own trauma and shame over the diagnosis, kept him from sharing the news. But now, he finally feels ready and empowered to do so: “It’s time to put my big boy pants on and talk,” he said.

Porter said he first found out he was HIV-positive in 2007, a year he called the worst of his life. “I have lived with that shame in silence for 14 years,” he explained. “HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment.” He said he knew his mother had already faced discrimination within their church simply for being the mother of a queer child, and he didn’t want to make things worse for her. “I just didn’t want her to have to live through their ‘I told you so’s.’ I didn’t want to put her through that. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I was the statistic that everybody said I would be. So I’d made a pact with myself that I would let her die before I told her.” How absolutely heartbreaking is that?

Porter also worried about how the diagnosis might impact his career. “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. But quarantine has taught me a lot.”

The coronavirus pandemic — and the forced slowdown and solitude — provided an opening for Porter to focus on his mental health and healing. “COVID created a safe space for me to stop and reflect and deal with the trauma in my life,” he said. Eventually, he began formulating a plan to tell his mother, who resides in a nursing home. He’d get vaccinated, and go visit her to share the news in person. But that plan went out the window recently when she asked him if anything was wrong during a phone call.

“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.” And thankfully, his mother’s response was the one that absolutely every queer person deserves: “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.’ And it’s all true.”

Porter said that opening up to his mother set him free in the most beautiful way. “I feel my heart releasing. It had felt like a hand was holding my heart clenched for years—for years—and it’s all gone.”

And the timing is wonderful for the busy actor. He’s starring in the upcoming live-action of Cinderella, playing a fairy godparent — because, as he tweeted, #magichasnogender. And naturally, he’s wearing a glamorous dress in the sneak peek image from the film he shared on social media—Porter has become a fashion icon thanks to the overtop dresses he’s rocked on numerous red carpets.

It is incredibly sad to know that shame forced Porter to keep this news secret for so long, but he said he’s now more than ready to live life without negative emotions holding him back. Now that his mother knows, nothing else can make him afraid: “I don’t care what anyone has to say. You’re either with me or simply move out of the way.”

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