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Billy Porter delivers powerful Attitude Man of the Year acceptance speech: 'This is what HIV looks like now'

“This is what HIV looks like now. This is what courage looks like now. This is what bravery looks like now. This is what activism looks like now.

2021-10-07

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Attitude

Billy Porter has proudly declared that he is what being HIV-positive in 2021 looks like, as well as delivering a rallying call to arms, reminding us all that "It’s we, the people, who have the f***ing power!"

In a rousing speech given while collecting the Attitude Man of the Year Award, supported by Virgin Atlantic, at Wednesday night's (6 October) Virgin Atlantic Attitude Awards, powered by Jaguar, the 52-year-old Pose actor recounted his experiences growing up. 

Everyone in attendance at the event at the Roundhouse in Camden was on their feet and greeted Porter’s emotional speech with rapturous applause.

Attitude's Man of the Year - who insists he will never "shut up" in the Attitude Awards issue - began his speech by recounting a story of his family taking him to see a psychologist when he was five years old because “something was wrong” with him.

He said: “I knew in that moment that there was something greater for me, I didn’t know how to get there but I knew in that moment.

Billy wears outfit, by Victoria Hayes, hat by Gigi Burris, earring by Erickson Beamon, rings by Jill Herlands for the Attitude Awards issue. (Photography by Taylor Miller; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Stylists: Ty Hunter and Colin Anderson; Hair: Koji Ichikawa at The Club NY; Makeup: Laramie at Home Agency; Professional fashion assistant: Sacha Dance)

“We are stuck inside of government and religious sanctioned bigotry that is allowed to go unchecked all over the world. It's not just America, it's not just England. That s*** is happening all over the world!”

“But I want to let you know something. Today, tonight, being in this room with all of you reminds me that it’s we, the people, who have the f***ing power!” which brought he first of several tremendous rounds of applause.

He continued: “I'm so glad that y’all got y’all shots so you could come to this tonight so we can get energised, and we can get back out in the f****** streets!

Proving his skills as both an orator and performer, Porter injected some levity by commenting on how amazing he looks joking that his partner often wonders how to get such good skin. (Billy’s short answer was “Black don’t crack” followed by “moisturise bitch!”)  

Picking back up on a more serious note Billy ran through a series of unfortunate events including being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, signing bankruptcy papers, and then being diagnosed as HIV-positive, all in 2007.

Billy Porter at the Virgin Atlantic Attitude Awards, powered by Jaguar (Photography: Kit Oates)

But standing on stage in front of more than 600 people he proudly stated: “This is what HIV looks like now. This is what courage looks like now. This is what bravery looks like now. This is what activism looks like now.

Issuing a call to action he told people: “It’s time to stop being scared. It’s time to stop being terrified. It’s time to say f*** you! It’s our country too, it’s our world too and we’re taking the m*****f***** back!

Billy wears full look by Victor Lopez, earrings by Erickson Beamon, rings by Jill Herlands (Photography: Taylor Miller)

“Dr Ronx [Ikharia] said earlier to me ‘you cannot be what you don’t see’. I want y’all to go out of this room tonight and know that you have the power, we have the power together collectively, we have to be together and do this together right f****** now! Right now! All over the world! Enough!”

Wrapping up his speech the actor-musician said: “It is the greatest honour to be a little sissy church boy from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania all the way over here in London town. God bless you, I love you!”

We love you Billy!

The Attitude Awards issue is out now.

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