When Billy Porter was a guest on The Rosie O’Donnell Show back in 1996, he was still in the closet.
The Kinky Boots star no longer is and is sharing for the first time what was happening behind-the-scenes during that particular appearance.
‘I was signed to a major label and had been schooled by the executives to keep my mouth shut, except for singing, so that my true nature might not be detected in the urban music business, which at the time was riddled with institutional, aggressive, poisonous and inhumane homophobia,’ Porter, 47, told the audience at last weekend’s GLAAD Media Awards in New York.
‘Just as I was about to go onstage for my interview with Rosie, my record executive handler flippantly tossed out this direction: “Don’t speak! I mean, don’t try to talk too much.” He actually said those words to me: “Don’t speak.” The on-camera interview was a disaster.
‘Rosie’s crack-of-dawn effervescence was met with rigid one-word answers, a tongue was tied, my spirit was broken. Rosie saw ambush in my eyes. On a commercial break, she leaned in: “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” I said. But she pressed: “My office. After the show. No bulls—.”‘
O’Donnell and Porter got real in that office that day.
‘She wrapped me in her arms. She gave me some tough love. And she empowered me: “You are enough. F— them,”‘ Porter recalled her saying.
A friendship was born on that day.
‘She also gave me a Volkswagen Bug to drive when I moved to LA, and I drove it for 16 years, just FYI!’
O’Donnell was on hand Saturday (6 May) to present Porter with GLAAD’s Vito Russo Award, an honor bestowed upon an out member of the media who has worked to promote acceptance.
‘You are all enough,’ Porter said in his speech. ‘We are all enough. F*ck them. … The days of “shut up and sing” are over. We must stay vigilantly visible. We must stay engaged. We must tell our stories.’