Billy Porter reveals he is HIV-positive, breaking 14-year silence: ‘The truth is the healing’

Billy Porter is breaking his silence about being HIV-positive.

In an emotional interview with The Hollywood Reporter published Wednesday, the “Pose” star opened up about his diagnosis 14 years ago, the “shame” surrounding it and why he decided to share his story. 

Porter learned he was HIV-positive in 2007, “the worst year of my life,” he told the publication in a video interview. The diagnosis came soon after he was also diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and filed for bankruptcy.

Porter never spoke of the diagnosis because of shame, he shared.

“My childhood was fraught with a lot of religious shaming growing up in the Pentecostal Church,” Porter said. “I was shamed for my behavior, for my attributes from the minute I could comprehend thought, and told I would never be blessed and told that AIDS was God’s punishment for gays.”

Billy Porter broke his 14-year silence about being HIV-positive in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter published Wednesday. (Photo: Michael Parmelee/FX)

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HIV disproportionately affects the LGBTQ+ community. Gay and bisexual men are most affected by HIV, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures. They made up for69% of total HIV diagnoses in the U.S.

Porter’s relationship with his mother also contributed to his 14-year silence, he said. Though he admitted he usually doesn’t care what anybody thinks of him, Porter was afraid to tell his mother, who had already “been through so much already, so much persecution … by her religious community.”

“There was already so much (shaming) in her life that she had to deal with because of my queerness and I just didn’t want her to have to live through their ‘I told you so’s,'” Porter said through tears.

It was quarantine lockdown that pushed the fashion icon to look inward and finally confront his shame head-on. Porter said he started trauma therapy to “begin the process of healing,” and his husband, Adam Smith motivated him to “grow up and move on.”

“Now I’m trying to have a family. Now it’s not just me,” Porter said. “I could torture myself forever … but now there’s another person in the room and now it’s time to look at some stuff so that I can grow up and move on and tell a different story.”

Billy Porter and his partner of 10 years, Adam Smith, tied the knot in 2017. (Photo: Frazer Harrison, Getty Images)

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The actor thanked FX’s “Pose,” which follows the New York LGBTQ community and drag balls, for giving him the opportunity to be himself. In the show, Porter portrays an HIV-positive emcee and activist named Pray Tell. 

“I am grateful to Pose, the spirit of it, the message of it, the purpose of it. My purpose, my calling, my ministry is about this conversation we’re having because the world needs to know what HIV positive looks like,” he said, adding that he felt a “sense of release” after sharing his diagnosis with his mother and his “Pose” family.

“The truth is the healing,” Porter said. “We are at a reckoning not just in this country but in the world. It’s not just America. It’s the whole world, and the only way for a civilization to heal is with the truth.”

HIV-positive revelations: Jonathan Van Ness reveals he’s HIV-positive, opens up about past sexual abuse in memoir

In 2019, “Queer Eye”‘s Jonathan Van Ness wrote about his HIV-positive diagnosis in his memoir, “Over the Top.”

“At the beginning (of ‘Queer Eye’) I was really kind of nervous to talk about my HIV status and not sure if I wanted to and how I wanted to,” Van Ness told USA TODAY in September. “And as I’ve continued to experience the world as I always have, it just became more clear to me that I wanted to be totally open with my story and be able to talk about it.”

Contributing: David Oliver

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