On Pose, set during the late '80s and early '90s AIDS crisis in New York City, Billy Porter plays Pray Tell, a HIV-positive ballroom MC. In real life, he has stayed quiet about his own diagnosis for 14 years. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, the 51-year-old actor says he learned he was HIV-positive in 2007, but it wasn't until the COVID pandemic that he had the time and space to reflect and decide to go public. Porter says "everybody who needed to know, knew," apart from his deeply religious mother, but as a Black gay man, he felt it would be "just another way for people to discriminate against me in an already discriminatory profession." He says his Pose character was a "surrogate" that allowed him to say whatever he wanted to say.
Porter says it was liberating to tell the truth to cast and crew members—and when he told his mother, he felt like a hand that had clenched his heart for years had finally let go. He says his mother told him: "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 says that thanks to medical advances, he has undetectable levels of the virus in his blood, CNN reports. "This is what HIV-positive looks like now," he tells the Reporter. "I'm going to die from something else before I die from that." (Read more Billy Porter stories.)