Billy Porter has revealed that he has been living with HIV for the past 14 years.
Porter, who plays the HIV-positive character Pray Tell in Pose, opened up about his diagnosis during a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter. He told the publication that he was diagnosed back in 2007, which he said was “the worst year of my life”.
“By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive,” Porter explained.
“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 went on to say that the HIV diagnosis was “a fluke”, adding: “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’, so I went to the Callen-Lorde clinic and the queen at the front desk was like, ‘You want an HIV test? They only $10’. I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s time’.”
He then got tested every six months and was later told by the doctor that one test had come back positive.
Porter largely kept his diagnosis private (“everybody who needed to know, knew – except for my mother”), reasoning that “it would just be another way for people to discriminate against me in an already discriminatory profession”.
Referring to his Pose character Pray Tell, he explained that he “was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate” on-screen.
“But look at me. Yes, I am the statistic, but I’ve transcended it,” Porter said of his current health. “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’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.”