Billy Porter Becomes 1st Gay Man to Cover Essence Magazine

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday July 1, 2020

Billy Porter at the 2019 Tony Awards
Billy Porter at the 2019 Tony Awards  (Source:Associated Press)

Essence has declared out singer/actor/director Billy Porter to be a "national treasure," and makes its case in a feature article in the current edition. Porter also becomes the first openly gay man to appear on the magazine's cover.

Essence didn't attempt to stifle, censor, or sugarcoat what Porter had to tell them, and Porter didn't hold back, tackling the current moment with zeal as he addressed the nation-wide protests against police brutality and the systemic racism that lethal police violence stems from. Porter tied that institutional racism back to America's original sin of slavery - which, Porter notes, America simply refuses to deal with honestly and constructively.

Said Porter:

" They don't want to talk about the actual thing. They want to act like the actual thing never happened so that there's never a healing that can take place. White people are so afraid that we want vengeance that they can't acknowledge the truth."

Porter went on to argue that it's not revenge that African Americans want, but the freedom to enjoy the American promise of equality.

"We want our rights. We want equality. We want to be treated like human beings. We want to know that we can walk out of our houses and not be under threat of death every single day simply because of the color of our skin."

Being gay and refusing to play by the homophobic rules and hide it, Porter told "Essence," meant that he had to take the long road to fame and fortune.

"But by taking myself out of the masculinity game, that literally turned my life around, and all of those layers were building blocks to the authentic human being you see in front of you who gives zero f—ks."

Added Porter: "Did it take two-plus decades? Yes, but it's happening and this is my ministry."

His concern for freedom and justice extended to transwomen of color, who have been dying from lethal violence in record numbers, especially since the 2016 elections. Said Porter:

"Our trans women are out here dying at the hands of our own. We can't ask for anything more than what we're ready to give. It starts with us first, and I'm calling it out."

Porter went on to drive his point home by saying that, "LGBTQ+ Black people are Black people first and we need to be supported and honored too.

"Stop killing us like everybody else is."

Porter has been a presence on Broadway and a voice in music since the early 1990s, but it was his Grammy and Tony Award-winning turn in the Broadway production of "Kinky Boots" - the musical based on the film of the same name, about a drag performer who befriends the owner of a failing shoe factory in Britain, to the benefit of both - the was his breakout role.

Porter has gone on to light up the small screen as a cast member of "Pose," the FX series about the 1980s New York ballroom scene (for which he earned an Emmy, making history as the first Black, openly gay man to snag the statuette for his work in a Drama Series category), and he has chosen a variety of other projects to which to lend his talents, including directing plays and, most recently, appearing in a memorable guest shot on the Jordan Peele-hosted reboot of classic sci-fi anthology series "The Twilight Zone."

Click here to read Porter's Essence piece.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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