He's one step closer to an EGOT, but as presenter Kerry Washington noted, Billy Porter's 2019 Emmys win is significant for another major reason. Porter made history as the first openly gay black man to win in the Lead Actor in a Drama Series category at the Emmys, per the Los Angeles Times. Ryan Murphy's Pose is a historic show in its own right, with the largest cast of trans actors as series regulars. And now the Pose emcee helped mark another momentous TV occasion with his major Emmy win.
Porter channeled his character Pray Tell when he announced, "The category is love, y'all!" while accepting his Emmy. He began his speech by saying, “I am so overwhelmed and I am so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day." While the Tony and Grammy winner (for his role in Kinky Boots) didn't directly acknowledge that he had made history as the first gay black man to accept this award at the Emmys, he showed exactly why representation matters by quoting writer James Baldwin in his speech. "It took many years of vomiting up all the filth that I had been taught about myself and halfway believed before I could walk around on this earth like I had the right to be here," Porter said. Then he triumphantly added, "I have the right, you have the right, we all have the right!"
The actor went on to give thanks to many people, including the other men in his category, as well as his "resilient" mother, his sister, his husband, and his manager. Of course, he thanked all of his Pose castmates and Ryan Murphy (whose name he uttered three times). Porter's win received a standing ovation from the audience, and his speech continued:
"We are the people. We as artists are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet. Please don't ever stop doing that. Please don't ever stop telling the truth. I love you all. They're telling me to please stop. God bless you... If I forgot anybody, I'm sorry. I love you all."
The significance of the moment was not lost on Twitter, where many applauded Porter's historic win. Others acknowledged that this is exactly the representation they needed growing up.
Earlier in 2019, Porter discussed with Gay Times how he experienced a toxic environment as a child that didn't accept his sexuality — and how the arts supported him. According to Just Jared, Porter came out at the age of 16 because "I was trying to get out of my circumstances and remove myself from the trauma and the toxic energy that was my childhood and my early teenage development. It was very traumatic and it was homophobic — it was violently homophobic and I knew then that if I was going to survive, I was going to have to extract myself from that." He added:
"I found the arts and I found the theatre, a community that embraced me for who I am, and as I went deeper and deeper into that community, I discovered we were in the middle of a plague and had to fight."
Porter continues to fight for LGBTQ acceptance through his work on and off screen. And having his art recognized at a ceremony like the Emmys is a testament that he has made an impact when it comes to the category of love.