Billy Porter, who was honored with the Outfest Achievement Award on Thursday as part of the LGBTQ+ festival’s opening night, used his onstage time for “a soapbox moment,” taking on the Supreme Court and Republican politicians.
“Fuck SCOTUS,” Porter declared from the front of downtown L.A.’s Orpheum Theatre, following the Court’s recent strikedown of Roe v. Wade: “We worked too hard for our progress and we ain’t going back.”
Amid the Jan. 6 hearings he also called out Republicans who are now testifying and going against Donald Trump, saying, “None of you Republicans who are coming forward in these hearings right now are heroes… you agreed with everything he did until Jan. 6, until his cult followers came for y’all. You are not heroes, fuck y’all too. No more reaching across the aisle to people who don’t want to be touched.”
Looking ahead, he said the liberal messaging has to change, and after winning marriage equality and some civil rights victories — along with the election of Barack Obama — “we all sat on our asses and ate bonbons for eight years, and then the unthinkable happened. We’re a part of it too.”
“We lost our vigilance — it’s time to get that shit back. The messaging has to change,” Porter continued, referencing his film Anything’s Possible, which premiered at Outfest following his award presentation. The movie, marking the Pose star’s directorial debut, follows a transgender teen as she navigates her senior year of high school.
“Our 24-hour news cycle has forgotten to illuminate that the reason the pushback is so severe in this moment is because the change has already happened. We’re already here — look at me, look at this movie, look at y’all,” he said. “A celebration of trans joy centering a Black, empowered, transgender high school senior who gets the cutest Arab Muslim boyfriend and has the audacity to demand respect for her humanity.” He then instructed the crowd to “turn to your neighbor and say, ‘The change has already happened, and we ain’t going back.’”
Porter advocated for choosing love, hope and joy, promising, “ain’t nobody coming to save us from ourselves but ourselves. What will you do and who will you be? This is the moment, right now. This is the moment. No more silence, no more fear.”
Before his political declarations, Porter was introduced by his film’s stars Eva Reign and Abubakr Ali, as he recalled the long journey to premiering his film — starting with his Outfest debut 22 years ago for The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy. The film led him to move to L.A., where he rarely landed auditions and “would consistently hear feedback that I was too flamboyant and the role would be given to a straight actor.”
Eventually he moved back to New York to begin the theater career that would launch him into Kinky Boots, and have a “come to Jesus moment” after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and HIV.
“Would I choose life anyway? Or not? Now I’m not gonna bore y’all with what came next — I’m gonna let y’all go buy my memoir, Unprotected,” he joked to an uproar. Cut to present day and “this script found me. Everybody talks about how did you choose this? I didn’t choose nothing, this script found me. Because I had made the choices in my life that were about me. I chose myself.”
This year’s Outfest marks the 40th anniversary of the festival, which runs through July 24. Larry Horne, one of Outfest’s cofounders, took the mic on Thursday to comment on how it’s grown since its UCLA origins, saying, “I remain in awe of the hundreds of filmmakers, video artists, queer visionaries, multitude of voices over time — and the Supreme Court and the far right will never be able to silence us. Here’s to another 40 years of Outfest.” Added executive director Damien Navarro, “We are committed to leading the dismantling of the entertainment industry as we know it, and rebuilding a more abundant media ecosystem is place.”