How to use fame and foster dialogue
By Mark Segal of Philadelphia Gay News
Most of you know actor Billy Porter from the TV show "Pose" or his starring role in the Broadway hit "Kinky Boots." He is also a strong proponent of LGBT rights, especially in the Black community and even more so for trans people of color. He was one of the first voices to speak up when Kevin Hart's homophobic tweets became an issue that it caused Hart to drop out of hosting the Academy Awards. To describe Hart's attitude, which was that if he found his son playing with a doll house he'd crash the doll house over his son's head, Porter coined the phrase "super masculinity" among straight Black men and their discrimination against Black gay and particularly Trans people of color. While Ellen Degeneres praised Hart for his weak apology, Porter spoke as a man who has personally felt that oppressive sting. His words started a new dialogue in the Black community, a discussion of hypermasculinity as well as the Black church. To say it was controversial is an understatement.
He could have just gone back to acting, but instead he decided to seize the moment by using nonconforming fashion as a statement, which then brought him more publicity and interviews where he pushed the issue every chance he got. Trans lives matter has become his mantra, and he lives it everyday.
Most actors when they take a stand do so in the easiest, most inoffensive terms. Porter confronts it head on. A few weeks ago, he made a strong statement on Youtube which caused a bit of backlash. Here's just a piece of it:
"As a Black queer man in America, my basic human rights have been up for legislation every single day that I have had breath in my body, from all sides, and by that I mean that the black community's relationship with the LGBTQ+ community is appalling and eerily similar to that of white supremacists versus Black folks. Hear me: homophobic, transphobic, and xenophobic Black people and hear me well, I am calling you out right here and now. You cannot expect our demands of equality to be met with any real legislative policy and change when you homophobic, transphobic, and xenophobic Black people turn around and inflict the same kind of hate and oppression on us, the queer community."
The reaction to Porter's video was mixed. Many people supported the message, but some said he should be supporting all Black people rather than calling anybody out. In response, Porter engaged with the criticism leveled at him and turned it into more dialogue. He didn't avoid it; he didn't deny it. He used his platform to continue to engage, most recently in a post on Instagram where he stood by his statement but said his language needed to be more specific.
"My intention was to present a simple do-unto-others metaphor that could shed a light on how we could all do better in this unprecedented moment of change. I hope that this clarification in semantics will engage our community as a collective to embrace all Black lives in this transformative moment."
As LGBT people, we all need to stand up for each other and protect each other from those that would do us harm. We also need to be willing to engage in dialogue with the people who discriminate against us. We have to speak out and be visible. Only then will real change happen.