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Actor Billy Porter reveals he’s been living with HIV since 2007

The “Pose” star said the shame caused by his religious upbringing and the fear of career repercussions prevented him from speaking out sooner.

“Pose” star Billy Porter revealed he has been living with HIV for 14 years. The Emmy-, Golden Globe- and Tony-winning performer discussed his diagnosis publicly for the first time in an interview published Wednesday in The Hollywood Reporter.

“This is what HIV-positive looks like now. I’m going to die from something else before I die from that,” Porter said. “I’m the healthiest I’ve been in my entire life.”

Porter said that, as a gay Black man, the shame ignited by his religious upbringing and the fear of career repercussions had prevented him from speaking out earlier. Until recently, he hadn’t even told his mother or his cast mates on the award-winning FX series “Pose,” where he plays an HIV-positive character, Pray Tell.

“HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment,” he explained. 

Quarantining during the Covid-19 pandemic, which Porter said finally gave him the luxury to think, “created a safe space for me to stop and reflect and deal with the trauma in my life.” His self-reflection led him to decide that it was “time to put my big boy pants on and talk.”

“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,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “This is for me. I’m doing this for me. I have too much s--- to do, and I don’t have any fear about it anymore. I told my mother — that was the hurdle for me. I don’t care what anyone has to say. You’re either with me or simply move out of the way.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in 2015 that diagnoses of HIV in the U.S. declined by 19 percent in decade before, but “progress is uneven."

Diagnoses among white gay and bisexual men decreased by 18 percent, but diagnoses among Black gay and bisexual men increased 22 percent from 2005 to 2014. 

The increase leveled off in 2010, the CDC wrote, but Black gay and bisexual men still make up a disproportionate number of new diagnoses. In 2018, they made up 26 percent of the 37,968 new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. and dependent areas, according to the CDC. 

The rate of change in diagnoses also varied depending on age. For example, from 2014 to 2018, the number of diagnoses decreased or were stable among all ages groups except for one: Among Black queer men aged 25-34, the number of diagnoses increased 12 percent, according to the CDC.

Black gay and bisexual men face more barriers to HIV prevention and care than others, the CDC wrote, such as the combined effects of racism, HIV stigma and homophobia, which can prevent them from getting tested and seeking treatment.

LGBTQ people in general can also face discrimination from doctors, causing them to distrust the medical community. One survey of Black men who have sex with men conducted in 2012 found that 29 percent reported “experiencing racial and sexual orientation stigma from heath care providers” and 48 percent reported “mistrust of medical establishments.”

As Porter attested to in his interview, Black queer men can also fear rejection and alienation from their friends and families if they disclose their HIV status.

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