Billy Porter hits out at Harry Styles and Anna Wintour over Vogue cover: ‘You’re using my community’

‘Pose’ actor initially said in 2020 that all Styles had to do to break barriers was ‘be white and straight’

Ellie Muir
Monday 14 August 2023 11:13 BST
Billy Porter apologises to Harry Styles over Vogue cover criticism

Billy Porter has re-addressed the criticism he made about Harry Styles becoming US Vogue’s first-ever solo male cover star in 2019.

At the time, the former One Direction singer appeared on the cover of the fashion magazine wearing a Gucci dress.

Porter, who is best known for starring in the hit TV series Pose, said in an interview The Sunday Times in 2020 that he had several issues with Vogue’s decision to feature Styles, with the actor claiming that all the singer had to do to break barriers was “be white and straight”.

“I was the first one doing it and now everybody is doing it,” he said. “I’m not dragging Harry Styles, but... He doesn’t care, he’s just doing it because it’s the thing to do. This is politics for me. This is my life.

“I had to fight my entire life to get to the place where I could wear a dress to the Oscars,” Porter added. “All [Styles] has to do is be white and straight.”

Porter is known for championing gender-neutral fashion. He wore an iconic tuxedo dress, custom-made by designer Christian Siriano, at the 2019 Oscars. At the Met Gala that same year, he wore a Cleopatra-inspired golden catsuit with wings, and arrived at the event in a golden litter carried by six shirtless men.

“Watermelon Sugar” singer Styles frequently performs in gender-neutral clothing, and told US Vogue in his cover story: “Clothes are there to have fun with and experiment with and play with. What’s really exciting is that all of these lines are just kind of crumbling away. There’s so much joy to be had in playing with clothes.”

“I’ve never really thought too much about what it means – it just becomes this extended part of creating something,” he added.

Billy Porter wearing the tuxedo dress and Harry Styles (Getty)

After making his initial comments, Porter issued an apology to Styles live on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, telling the camera: “Harry Styles, I apologise to you for having your name in my mouth.

“It’s not about you. The conversation is not about you.”

Porter went on to explain that the conversation is “deeper,” as it is actually about “the systems of oppression and erasure of people of colour, who contribute to the culture”.

After acknowledging that there is a lot to “unpack” regarding the topic, Porter noted that he is willing to do so as long as it is without the interference of “the cancel culture of the internet”.

“I’m willing to unpack it, sans the dragging and cancel culture of the internet, because I do not now, nor will ever, adjudicate my life or humanity in sound bites on social media,” he said. “So when you’re ready to have the real conversation, call a b****. OK? I’m ready to have it!”

In a new interview with The Telegraph, published on Friday (11 August 2023), Porter explained how he would have better approached Anna Wintour back in 2019.

Billy Porter (Getty Images for Tribeca Festiva)

Months before the Harry Styles Vogue cover was revealed, Porter had participated in a Q&A with Anna Wintour in front of Condé Nast staff.

“That b**** said to me at the end, ‘How can we do better?’ And I was so taken off guard that I didn’t say what I should have said.”

Now, looking back, Porter reflected on what he wished he had said: “Use your power as Vogue to uplift the voices of the leaders of this de-gendering of fashion movement.”

However, as Porter reflected: “Six months later, Harry Styles is the first man on the cover.”

“It’s not Harry Styles’s fault that he happens to be white and cute and straight and fit into the infrastructure that way … I call out the gatekeepers,” he said.

Porter now doesn’t claim to be “the first” to push against gender stereotypes in fashion.

Harry Styles performing wearing a sequined flared jumpsuit in 2022 (PA)

“I know David Bowie existed, I know Sylvester existed,” he told the publication.

Porter added that Styles is “white and he’s straight”, which explains why “he’s on the cover”.

“Non-binary blah blah blah blah. No. It doesn’t feel good to me. You’re using my community – or your people are using my community – to elevate you. You haven’t had to sacrifice anything,” he said.

Porter is best known for starring in the hit TV series Pose, for which he was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards and won the 2019 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. He became the first gay Black man to be nominated and win in any lead acting category at the Primetime Emmys.

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