Billy Porter 'Humbled' After Being Honored for Raising HIV Awareness (Exclusive)
By Mona Khalifeh
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Billy Porter is feeling emotional after being honored by The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. ET's Lauren Zima spoke with the Emmy-winning artist at The Elizabeth Taylor Ball to End AIDS about receiving the foundation's Commitment to End AIDS Award and his role in fighting and advocating to end the disease. When Porter got the call that he'd be receiving the honor, he had one word to describe his reaction: "Humbled."
"Humbled," Porter said of how it felt to be recognized for his working in ending HIV and AIDS. "You know, I have been gay a long time. I've been out since the '80s, when it wasn't so popular. HIV was around, Elizabeth Taylor was one of the first people in the public eye with celebrity to show the world how to love, to show the world what unconditional love looks like. And all these years later to be honored in her name is... takes my breath away."
Though Porter never got the chance to meet Taylor, if he had the chance, he'd simply like to tell her, "Thank you."
With these new honors attached to his name, Porter hopes to continue to make a change, something he tells ET he's been doing long before he had a platform.
"Well I’m an artist, right? And I've been an artist all my life. And I haven't always had a platform where anybody cared. I've always been the same person, I've always been doing this. The the world has caught up. The world has changed," Porter explained. "There is an evolution that's going on. We've come a long way. And I know sometimes that's hard to see because there's so much negativity, but we also have to remember how far we've come. And I want to make sure that there's a focus on that coming from me. And change, change has happened and change will continue to happen. The world only spins forward."
With all this change comes plenty of emotions, but it's "emotional in a good way," Porter said of finally being "seen" where he was once "dismissed" from the conversation.
"It's an emotional time, and emotional in a good way. In a really good way," the actor and activist expressed. "To be seen, inside of a space where I was not for a long time and not only not seen, but dismissed from the conversation...it is breathtaking to me that in the choosing of myself, in the choosing of my truth and my authenticity, my life has transformed and it's magical! You know it's really, really magical and that's all I can say!"
Porter hasn't only been an advocate for ending HIV and AIDS, he's been open about his own battle with the disease and what it's been like to share his status with the world. Porter revealed he was HIV positive in May after keeping his diagnosis quiet for 14 years.
"You know, there is a shame component that comes with living. Period. You know, a very particular kind of shame that comes with being queer. And then another layer that comes with the HIV stigma. I lived with that shame for a long time, and in the revealing of that truth, it's the release of the shame. I don't have that anymore. And it's joyful. It really is. And I’m trying to receive that," he confidently shared.
He continued, "It's scary. When the only thing that you know is trauma, when the only thing that one knows is navigating through life inside of intense trauma and shame, when that shifts, there's an adjustment period. And I’m in my adjustment period now."
As for what he would tell others navigating the disease, it's to "be present" even if it's uncomfortable.
"Be present. Say yes to what is. Don't fight it. And then, once that happens, there's clarity as to how to proceed," he said. "That's the only way we can get there, is to say yes to what is, even when it's uncomfortable."
Tune in to tonight's episode of Entertainment Tonight for more of ET's interview with Porter.