Pose’s Billy Porter shares positive HIV status to ‘free himself from shame’
Billy Porter has publicly revealed that he is HIV positive, 14 years after his original diagnosis.
The Pose star Said: “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.”
The interview with The Hollywood Reporter took a deep dive into the life of Porter, how his diagnosis changed him and what it means to him to be a black gay man working within entertainment.
Porter had decided to keep the secret from all but a few due to the shame he says he felt about it.
He explained: “There was also a feeling of dread, all day, every day. It wasn’t a fear that [my status] was going to come out or that somebody was going to expose me; it was just the shame that it had happened in the first place.”
The AIDS epidemic in America first came to light in the early 80s after doctors in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco found HIV within gay men.
Public perception on the virus was tilted towards the belief that HIV only affected bisexual or gay men as they were disproportionately affected by the epidemic, some referring to it as the “gay plague”.
The Reagan administration was criticised for their handling of the crisis, being accused of homophobia by Randy Shilts in his book And the Band Played On, supposedly “dragging their feet” and allowing the disease to infect hundreds of thousands more.
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African-Americans continue to suffer the largest burden of HIV on American soil, accounting for over 43% of new infections in 2017.
This unequal distribution has pushed for research in the long-term effects of racial and gender discrimination among HIV related stigma and the effect it causes.
Porter’s shame in his own HIV status led him to the decision that he would never tell anyone about his diagnosis, not even his own mother.
He said: “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.”
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Porter eventually changed his stance and decided to tell his mother about the diagnosis 14 years later.
After telling his mother over the phone, 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.”
After releasing himself from his fears of telling his mother, Porter decided that he should tell the cast and crew of his show Pose – on which his character is also HIV-positive.
He said: “I told them the truth because, at a certain point, the truth is the responsible road. The truth is the healing. And I hope this frees me.”
Porter’s new outlook on his diagnosis allowed him to come forward and tell the world, confronting a long lasting stigma within public perception while allowing himself to move on from it.
Porter has a memoir on the way and the first two seasons of Pose can be found on BBC iPlayer.
“Yes, I am the statistic, but I’ve transcended it. This is what HIV-positive looks like now," he added.
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