Photo courtesy of Santiago Felipe

Billy Porter was born September 21, 1969 and is an American actor, singer and style icon. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, and achieved fame performing on Broadway before starting a solo career as a singer and actor.

Porter was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to William E. Porter and Cloerinda Jean Johnson Porter Ford. His sister is Mary Martha E. Ford. He grew up in a “very religious” Pentecostal family and has described being sexually abused by his stepfather between the ages of 7 and 12.

Porter won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Lola in Kinky Boots. He credits the part for “cracking open” his feminine side to confront toxic masculinity. As of 2020 he stars in the television series Pose.

He attended Reizenstein Middle School and Allderdice High School, where he graduated in 1987. He graduated from the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama and earned a certification from the graduate-level Professional Program in Screenwriting at UCLA.

During the summers of 1985–1987, Porter was a member of entertainment groups, “Spirit” and “Flash,” which performed daily at Kennywood Park in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania.

Porter appeared on American Talent Show Star Search in 1992 and won $100,000. He appeared on the same show as other future stars, such as a young Britney Spears.

Porter played Teen Angel in the 1994 Broadway revival of Grease. Other shows he has been in include Topdog/Underdog at City Theatre (2004), Jesus Christ Superstar and Dreamgirls at Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera (2004), and the song cycles Myths and Hymns and Songs for a New World (Off-Broadway, 1995).

Porter wrote and performed in his one-person autobiographical show, Ghetto Superstar (The Man That I Am) at Joe’s Pub in New York City in February and March 2005. In September 2010, Porter appeared as Belize in Signature Theatre Company’s 20th Anniversary production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.

Porter has also appeared in many films. He played a major role as Shiniqua, a drag queen who befriends Angel (David Norona) and Lee (Keivyn McNeill Graves) in Seth Michael Donsky’s Twisted (1997), an adaptation of Oliver Twist. He has also appeared on The RuPaul Show.

He has had a musical career with three solo albums released, Billy Porter on DV8/A&M Records in 1997, At the Corner of Broadway + Soul in 2005 on Sh-K-Boom Records and Billy’s Back on Broadway (Concord Music Group) in 2014.

Porter released Billy Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers in April 2017.

Porter duetted with Pose co-star Dyllón Burnside and sang from his album in a benefit concert emceed by Burnside on July 23, 2018, to celebrate the season 1 finale and to raise money for GLSEN.In June 2019, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, sparking the start of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, Queerty named him one of the Pride50 “trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance, and dignity for all queer people”. Also in June 2019 he presented the Excellence in Theatre Education Award at the 73rd Tonys at Radio City Music Hall. However, he earned media coverage for his haute couture red and pink gown, upcycled from Kinky Boots‘ stage curtains, in a uterine shape, and his impromptu performance of “Everything’s Coming up Roses” from Gypsy, for host James Corden’s “Broadway karaoke”. In September 2019, he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Pose, becoming the first openly gay black man to be nominated and win in any lead acting category at the Primetime Emmys.

Also, in 2019, Porter had a cameo appearance in Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” music video that featured twenty LGBTQ icons.

Porter attributes his love of fashion from an early age to growing up in the black church which he describes as “a fashion show”. His style has gone through many phases over the years, including vintage, Abercrombie and Fitch and geek chic. He has said that he intentionally set out to use fashion in a political way, to be a “walking piece of political art”. 

In February 2019, Porter was an Official Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Ambassador for New York Fashion Week: Mens.

Porter is openly gay, having come out at the age of 16, “in the middle of the AIDS Crisis”.

In May 2021, Porter told The Hollywood Reporter that he had been diagnosed with HIV in June 2007, a difficult year for him which also included being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes that February and filing for bankruptcy that March. In the same interview, he talked about renting a house on Long Island during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a pre-existing health condition and about having intermittently attended psychotherapy since the age of 25.