Billy Porter says being black and gay hurt his career

The Emmy-award winning Pose star Billy Porter has revealed that his early music and film career was sidelined because he was black and gay. 

At the New Yorker Festival on October 12, the Broadway veteran spoke of his unsuccessful attempts to break into the film and music industry in the 1980s.

Despite signing a deal with A&M Records, he said his pop music career never took off because the music industry is “hugely, violently homophobic”.

“It just was never about the music,” Porter said in an interview with Deadline. “It was about trying to fix myself so other people would feel comfortable around me.”

And he didn’t have much luck with Hollywood either, as movie executives at the time were only looking for three types of African American actors – “James Earl Jones, the patriarch, Denzel Washington, the sex symbol, or genius clown, Eddie Murphy.”

Being neither, Porter struggled. “Where am I fitting in?” he asked himself. “I became a character actor to hide behind little weight and work so I could eat.”

Billy Porter discusses his experiences of racism and homophobia at the 2019 New Yorker Festival (Craig Barritt/Getty)

Things got so bad that he filed for bankruptcy and had no apartment or health insurance for 13 years.

He finally got his big break in 2011, playing the character of Belize in the revival of Angels in America. This was followed by his Tony Award-winning run as Lola in Kinky Boots in 2013.

“But the calling in my life is where I am now,” he said, referring to his iconic role as Pray Tell, the ball MC and a male lead in FX’s groundbreaking drama Pose.

It’s a role that earned him the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, and Porter made history by becoming the first openly gay black man to win in this category.

“We must speak life into ourselves, even when everyone around us is doing the opposite,” he said. “I never saw anything that looked like me, and visibility … when we see ourselves reflected back … is so important.”