• Billy Porter spoke about homophobia in the music industry during a talk with Rachel Syme at the 2019 New Yorker Festival. (Getty Images North America)Source: Getty Images North America
“It was about trying to fix myself so other people would feel comfortable around me."
By
Samuel Leighton-Dore

17 Oct 2019 - 3:09 PM  UPDATED 17 Oct 2019 - 3:09 PM

Singer, fashionista and Emmy award-winning actor Billy Porter has revealed the extent of homophobia he witnessed early on in his career, pointing to the music industry as being particularly culpable.

According to Deadline, the star who recently confirmed he'll be playing the fairy godmother in a remake of Cinderella, described the music industry as “hugely, violently homophobic."

"It just was never about the music,” he told interviewer Rachel Syme onstage at the New Yorker Festival in New York City.

“It was about trying to fix myself so other people would feel comfortable around me.”

Porter added that, as he moved into acting, he observed that Hollywood expected black actors to fit into one of three categories: “James Earl Jones, the patriarch; Denzel Washington, the sex symbol; or genius clown, Eddie Murphy.”

While Porter was able to stay afloat by securing the odd role as a 'character actor', he struggled to place himself in an industry that didn't reflect him. He revealed to Syme that he was even driven to the point of bankruptcy, losing his apartment and health insurance.

“We must speak life into ourselves, even when everyone around us is doing the opposite,” he told the New York audience.

“We must speak life into ourselves, even when everyone around us is doing the opposite."

“I never saw anything that looked like me, and visibility … when we see ourselves reflected back… is so important.”

From there, well, the rest is history - and history-making.

Porter would eventually earn a breakout role in a stage production of Angels in America, before performing in the critically acclaimed Kinky Boots - a role that won him a Tony award.

This year he became the first gay black man to win an acting Emmy, celebrated for his role as ballroom emcee Pray Tell on FX series Pose.

Backstage following his win, Porter told reporters: "It’s when we are visible that we have the power to create empathy through the way we tell stories. Being black and gay and out and being in this position and speaking from where I get to speak from is the change."

He added: “I hope that young queer people of all colours can look at me and know that they can."

As for the music? Despite witnessing the industry's historic homophobia, Porter hasn't given up on his incredible vocal pipes just yet. In June of this year he released a new single for Pride Month called 'Love Yourself' - written and produced by Grammy-nominated trans artist D. Smith.

And just quietly, we hope he'll be singing for years to come.

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The track is called 'Love Yourself'.