What Billy Porter's historic Emmy win means | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

What Billy Porter's historic Emmy win means

click to enlarge What Billy Porter's historic Emmy win means
Photo: Fox
Billy Porter won a historic Emmy.
Last night, when Billy Porter won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, the program's announcer said: "They'll be kicking up their kinky boots in Pittsburgh tonight for a hometown hero." And he was right, because every time Porter, who grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, shows out at a public event, Pittsburgh is more than happy to lay their claim to him. But this time was different because Porter was the first openly gay Black man to win the award for his role on Pose, a show about ball culture in 1980s New York.

The moment was immediately recognized as historic for the LGBTQ community and for Pittsburghers who knew Porter before he hit it big. Richard Parsakian, owner of Eons Fashion Antique and a member of The Mayor's LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council, has been friends with Porter for 30 years and was thrilled to watch the results live, but wasn't surprised given Porter's performance on the show.

"After episode six of the first season, I said, 'He's gonna win an Emmy Award,'" says Parsakian. "I was so thrilled that we are represented on that stage. ... Billy essentially is the tip of that iceberg. He represents everything that we wanna say in the world, in the sense that he has a platform now."

click to enlarge What Billy Porter's historic Emmy win means
Photo: Richard Parsakian
Parsakian with Porter at his store
Pose is historic not just for its representation, but for its casting; the show has the largest transgender cast ever assembled for a TV show, along with bringing on trans crew members for behind-the-scenes work including directors, choreographers, and writers. During his acceptance speech, Porter read a quote from writer James Baldwin about fighting the way to self-acceptance, which reads, "It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here." Porter then told the audience that everyone has a right to be here.

Parsakian says his joy over the win for the LGBTQ community is intertwined with his joy for his friend's success. "I am so so proud that we have an artist who has a voice that can articulate our thoughts, our struggles," says Parsakian, getting choked up. "When the marginalized community is silenced and erased — a lot of trans women of color talk about this, but I think as a queer community we can talk about it too — we don't wanna be erased. He represents the forgotten people, and we are not forgotten anymore."

Parsakian notes that Porter has always been a supporter of his hometown, and not just by visiting Eons whenever he comes to town. Two months after the Tree of Life shooting, Porter returned for a benefit concert at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland.

click to enlarge What Billy Porter's historic Emmy win means
Photo: Fox
The full outfit
Of course, it's impossible to mention Billy Porter without mentioning what Billy Porter is wearing, which on Sunday was a wide leg suit bedazzled with over 100,000 crystals, platform heels, and an asymmetrical Stephen Jones hat with a high and tall brim. Parsakian says that he can't pick a favorite of Porter's outfits, but "every designer is going to be knocking on his door and begging him to create something for him."

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