Billy Porter Made Everyone Cry at the Essence Awards

Speaking on the importance of being seen, and bridging a chasm between the Black and LGBTQ communities, Porter brought the emotion in the room to a 12.

Billy Porter Got Emotional Presenting the Pose Cast With an Award
Photo: Randy Stropshire/Getty Images

Billy Porter was filled with emotion as he talked about the importance of finally feeling seen in the industry, as well as the Black community, as he honored his Pose castmates at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. Thursday afternoon.

“For so long, so many of us in the LGBT community have felt like we were on the outside looking in, like we didn’t have a place — I told ya’ll I wasn’t going to cry today,” Porter said as he got choked up. “Like we didn’t belong or matter,” he continued. “It’s really isolating, but thankfully, that’s beginning to change. Slowly but surely. And that change continues to happen as we have the opportunities and vehicles to share our truths.”

Porter, who wore a pin-striped Official Rebrand ensemble continued, “When I read the script for Pose, I was in awe, because I know this world, I came up in this world. This is our world. With our show, the tables are turned, the narratives have shifted. We are the focus of the story, and we’ve invited audiences into our glorious, complicated (and sometimes very complicated) world. It’s such a rewarding experience and none of this would be possible without the artists who bear their souls to tell our stories.”

Porter recalled a recent conversation he had with Essence Chief Content and Creative Officer Moana Luu, and their discussion about the disconnect between the Black and LGBTQ communities. “We had an in-depth conversation about the African American community and our relationship with the LGBT community and how that needs to change, and how that needs to change out loud,” he said. “We need to talk about it out loud because none of us are free until we are all free.”

“We can agree to disagree, but the only conversation that matters is respect for our own individual humanity,” he continued. “So, I thank you for this day, because on this day, the conversation changes. It takes people in positions of power to make sure that this happens. And we’re here today.” With that he presented the women of Pose with their award, and they were no less emotional than he had been about the honor.

Billy Porter Got Emotional Presenting the Pose Cast With an Award
Aaron J Thornton/Getty Images

MJ Rodriguez wiped away tears as she took the stage, along with her castmates Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, Angelica Ross, Hailie Sahar, and co-executive producer Janet Mock. Rodriguez told InStyle it was a “huge honor,” adding ahead of the show, “it’s tough to even swallow because I’d just never expect this to happen.”

“I mean, there's a couple of men here, but for the most part this is about us, black women, making a statement in the community and the industry. It feels good,” she continued.

Mock went on to send a powerful message as she spoke on behalf of the group. “The struggle for Black people must include Black trans and queer people. Period,” Mock said, echoing Porter’s sentiments. “And this award reaffirms that our stories, our lives, our experiences matter and reassures that the way that we tell it, from the perspective and talents of those who’ve lived it, is most impactful.”

“Too often Black trans women and Black queer and gender non-conforming folk put their bodies on the line every day to be themselves,” Mock continued. “Grappling with housing and joblessness and a lack of access to healthcare and education. Navigating our own people’s intolerance and willful ignorance, pushing our sisters out of homes, intolerant schools and churches, and into detention facilities, foster homes, prisons, and deeper into poverty. And these alarming issues remain widely unaddressed because we as a culture do not acknowledge that trans women are women, that Black bodies are valuable, and that Black trans girls and Black trans women are worthy of our protection and care.”

“To be given the stage today tells all our sisters watching that no matter their path to womanhood that they are deserving of being seen.”

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