Billy Porter on How 'Pose' Broke Through the "Homophobic, Transphobic Ceiling of Silence" (Guest Column)

JoJo Whilden/FX
Billy Porter in 'Pose.'

The Golden Globe-nominated actor, part of The Hollywood Reporter's year-end Rule Breakers issue, explains how the Ryan Murphy series "brings our formerly invisible community to the front."

Visibility in the mainstream: That’s a new concept that we as a collective society are realizing is one of the leading factors in the evolution of personal self-worth. When you don’t see yourself reflected in the cultural narrative, you are essentially invisible. I came out of the closet as gay in 1985, when we were thrust into the fight for our lives. AIDS was ravaging our community and nobody cared. Our government actively ignored the plague; religious communities spewed rhetoric that positioned it as God’s punishment for our lifestyle, leaving millions in our generation to waste away in obscurity.

When antiretroviral drugs were introduced in 1996 and folks started living again, narratives spotlighting the LGBTQ journey began to sprout up. Unfortunately for people of color, the majority of those narratives were through a white cisgender lens. From Elton John to Rosie O’Donnell, from Ellen to Will & Grace and beyond, the LGBTQ movement seemed, on the surface at least, to exclude and/or simply ignore people of color. I did have the pleasure of co-starring in the groundbreaking 2000 Greg Berlanti rom-com The Broken Hearts Club — but that was 18 years ago, and opportunities for expansion of these narratives never materialized, until now …

Pose breaks through the homo- and transphobic glass ceiling of silence and thrusts the stories of our formerly invisible community to the front. Pose reclaims our vibrant culture from the silencers and appropriators of days gone by. 'Tis a new day, and I’m grateful to have lived long enough to see it and be a messenger in it. And to quote one of my favorite writers of all time, Tony Kushner, from Angels in America: “We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. More Life. The Great Work begins.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.