‘Pose’ star Billy Porter announces he is HIV-positive

Entertainment

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 09: Billy Porter attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 09, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — Billy Porter has broken his silence over his HIV diagnosis, saying he told nearly no one for 14 years out of shame and fear of retaliation and marginalization in his industry.

“The truth is the healing. And I hope this frees me. I hope this frees me so that I can experience real, unadulterated joy, so that I can experience peace, so that I can experience intimacy, so that I can have sex without shame. This is for me,” the award-winning “Pose” star told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview published Wednesday.

The 51-year-old Porter, who won an Emmy for his HIV-positive character Pray Tell on the FX series, said the isolation of the pandemic led him to reflect on his secret.

Porter said telling his mother was the most difficult. Having grown up in the Pentecostal church, in an intensely religious family, the stage and screen star said the shame of being queer was compounded by his HIV status.

“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,’” Porter recalled.

He said he’s now the “healthiest I’ve ever been.”

Porter called 2007, the year he was diagnosed, the worst year of his life. In addition to his HIV status, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes that year, and he signed bankruptcy papers.

“I survived so that I could tell the story. That’s what I’m here for,” he said. “I’m the vessel, and emotionally that was sufficient — until it wasn’t. Until I got married (in 2017). Now I’m trying to have a family; now it’s not just me. It’s time to grow up and move on because shame is destructive — and if not dealt with, it can destroy everything in its path.”

Two-thirds of some 38 million people living with HIV in 2019 take anti-retroviral drugs, which prevent them passing on the virus and stop it from developing into AIDS, according to the United Nations.

Infection rates have plummeted among gay and bisexual men in some countries following the introduction of the daily pill pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which is at least 99% effective at preventing those who take it from contracting HIV.

Activists say that celebrity disclosures can help to tackle the stigma of HIV, with a growing number of well-known figures going public about their status.

“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,” said DaShawn Usher, the group’s associate director for communities of color.

Porter’s series is in its third season, the final round for the show. He’s writing a memoir, working on a Netflix documentary about his life and will play a genderless Fairy Godmother this year in a new film take on “Cinderella,” scheduled for release in September on Amazon Prime.

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