As Billy Porter descended the stairs of the Crystal Ballroom, half the crowd applauded, while the other half captured the regal moment on their phones.
“I came to work on my birthday, bitches. Cuz that’s how important this is to me,” he told the crowd as he took the stage.
Porter was in Wilton Manors to support the Stonewall National Museum & Archives. It didn’t take long for him to get rolling, taking the crowd of about 200 to a civil-rights church.
With a cheeky smile, he told the crowd, “I’ve been gay a long time.” Then he got serious.
“I came out in 1985. And everybody in this room knows what that meant. There was a lot of fear. There was a lot of mess.”
He’s referring to the height of the AIDS crisis.
Porter talked about how race affected him, and how Dreamgirls, in the early ‘80s, changed how he saw himself, finally being reflected on TV.
“It was the first time I’d ever seen Black people who weren’t slaves or poor. All of a sudden, there were sequins and hair.”
Porter talked about his early education and extolled the virtues of his public schooling. He said he was supported by teachers and staff who recognized his talent and gave him lead roles and lots of solos. That encouragement helped him find his calling.
“As a little boy, who was clearly a queen who couldn’t play any sports, who was bullied and beat up literally every day, this was the moment I realized maybe I was born with something, because I can sing.”
In an exclusive interview with Out South Florida, Porter talked about why it is important for him to come to Florida, even when major activist groups are warning LGBTQ and people of color to stay away.
“We have to go through it. Mindful practices tell us you go through the pain, not around it, not below it, not above it. I’m coming right into the center of it because I have the tools to do that. The only way to heal from a thing is to name a thing. We’re here naming what the issue is, so we can heal.”
Let Them Eat Cake
As Porter mentioned at the start, he was celebrating his 54th birthday. After his speech, a pair of huge sheet cakes with chocolate frosting and red trim were rolled out. He blew out the candles, cut a slice, then had it divided up for guests.
He stayed in Wilton for a couple nights and celebrated his big day in South Florida style. Porter posed with fans as he made his way up and down Wilton Drive. DrYnk’s Facebook page is full of happy and surprised guests who suddenly found themselves having cocktails with one of the most important and influential LGBTQ celebrities of the moment.