Actor, activist and icon Billy Porter knows how to rock a red carpet, but for him giving back is always in vogue.
This GivingTuesday, Porter is teaming up with PayPal to spread the word about all the ways it’s possible to give back. Donating money certainly is the quickest way to make an impact for those who have the means, but there are lots of ways to give your time and talents to support the causes that mean the most to you.
We chatted with Porter about his favorite ways to give back and how he’s using fashion to change this “toxic gender world.”
What drew you to this campaign?
The spirit of giving has always been a part of my life growing up in the church environment, it’s one of the first things they teach you. So, when PayPal called me about this, it was a no-brainer. I really, really try to live my life in a space of paying it forward as much as I can possibly can.
What are some of your favorite ways to give back?
I’m an artist, so I always try to use my art in some way to give back. When I first moved to NYC, back in the early ’90s, I worked with the Actors Fund and Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS very often. I would show up and sing at benefits, or do my own personal concerts where all the proceeds would go to the those organizations, so I’ve always done it through my creativity, because I haven’t always had the finances to give in that way … Money is always a way to give, and PayPal is going to be matching by 10 percent, but I think it’s more important for everyone to know that giving is a hard thing. Giving of your time, whether it’s volunteering at food bank or mentoring someone who needs that kind of assistance, supporting small businesses, for instance, donating. Donate some of those clothes you got in your closet that you can’t wear no more, it don’t fit no more, you’ve been holding on to it for two decades — you ain’t that size no more! Donate those clothes somewhere. It’s getting creative with how we give, but every, every bit of it counts and matters.
What are causes you’re excited about right now?
I always speak of the Actors Fund because the Actors Fund of America has been around for 137 years. They’ve been dedicated and committed to making sure that artists — people in the arts, very often we’re freelance — are taken care of when the insecurity of freelance-ness rears its ugly head. I have been a beneficiary of them when I was in my downtime period, they helped me through a really, really rough period, helping me with rent and utility bills and medical bills … They’ve been really present for me. They’ve been available for me in ways that are unimaginable. So, I’m always finding ways to give back.
What are the urgent needs for the LGBTQ community during this giving season?
The rights of LGBTQ people in general are under attack, like many other people’s rights are under attack. I have specifically been enlightened by being a part of Pose and now being a part of the transgender community and what that means and what that feels like. It’s really, really time for our focus to shift into how to protect that part of our society, our human society.
Why is Giving Tuesday particularly relevant now in 2019?
Giving is always relevant, let me just say that. Giving is ALWAYS relevant. This is no different than any other time, other than the fact we feel like some of us are under an oppressive regime. That means we keep giving, and we keep giving. Frederick Douglass said, ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,’ right? So, we just keep doing it. For me, it’s an extension of what I’ve always done. What I hope is that this moment is a springboard to remind people that giving is ALWAYS. Giving back and and paying it forward happens ALWAYS. It’s a way of life, it’s the oxygen that we breathe. It’s the only way the world is going to become a better place.
You’re no stranger to making a statement on and off the red carpet. What is your philosophy on fashion as a political act?
I’m from a generation of artists where the politics of it come first. The politics of it is rooted and grounded in the work, in general … So, we’re in this toxic gender world, where masculine and feminine are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and the twain shall never meet. That’s the conversation I knew we needed to have, but I didn’t know how intense it would be. It’s intense. It’s crazy. I feel humbled to be a part of that conversation, and I think it’s changing stuff. I know that it’s changing things. Fashion is art, and art is always political.