Billy Porter Claps Back at Critics Slamming His Decision to Wear Dress on Sesame Street
Billy Porter has a message for unhappy critics about his decision to wear a dress on Sesame Street: turn off the TV.
The Emmy and Tony-winning actor, 50, opened up about the negative reactions he’s received for his look — telling Page Six, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”
Backlash towards Porter first began after Sesame Street shared on-set photos of the star on their social media accounts on Jan. 30.
Porter was filming an episode for the long-running children series’ upcoming 51st season while rewearing the show-stopping Christian Siriano velvet tuxedo gown he first debuted at the 2019 Oscars. But some viewers found the look offensive.
“Do you approve of your taxpayer dollars being used to promote the radical LGBTQ agenda?” Jason Rapert, a 47-year-old Republican state senator from Arkansas, wrote on Facebook, adding he could pass a bill to “cutoff all funding” to PBS.
“Taxpayer funds should not be used to try and manipulate young children with the political agenda and worldview of LGBTQ activism,” he said, in a follow-up post. “Political interest groups can pay for their own messaging and do as they please, but the hardworking taxpayers of America DO NOT have to pay the bills for your efforts. I object to PBS and AETN rebroadcasting any LGBTQ activist programming using public funds. Not the right time or the right place.”
Soon a petition to remove Porter’s appearance from pro-life site LifePetitions began to circulate, saying that Sesame Street wanted to “try to sexualize children using drag queens” by featuring guests such as the Pose star.
“Let children be children, and stop trying to force this corrupting and dangerous influence on the youth of America,” the petition states.
In response to the backlash, Porter told Page Six he struggled to understand how critics connected him wearing a dress to “perverted demon sex.”
“Like, what about me singing with a penguin [on Sesame Street] has anything to do with what I’m doing in my bedroom?” he asked. “The really interesting thing for me is that that’s what it’s all about when it comes to LGBTQ people — the first thing everyone wants to talk about is how we having sex.”
“Stay out of my bedroom and you will be fine,” Porter continued. “That is none of your business.”
Porter has made a name for himself in recent years, wearing one unique ensemble after another throughout his time on the red carpet ever since he arrived at the 2019 Golden Globes in an embroidered suit and pink-lined cape.
“As a man, I really want to make a different kind of statement and show up in a way that could also be transformative, that could also be political,” Porter told PEOPLE in September. “My goal was to be a walking piece of political art. When I show up that’s what my goal is. Put a man in a dress and it’s controversial, doesn’t make any sense, but okay. Let’s keep having this conversation until we can change something.”
He credited working on the FX hit Pose, a show about New York City underground ballroom culture in the late 1980s, for changing his perspective on his red carpet style.
“I realized how gender fluid my impulses, my whole life has been. I didn’t really understand that until Pose happened,” he shared. “It kind of cracked my brain open and helped me get to a different space and understating about myself, the dilemmas I was putting on myself even just about what I can wear, what was acceptable, what was masculine enough, what was acceptable.”
As for his 2019 Oscars gown — and now controversial Sesame Street garb —the grand look was put together by Siriano in just a week.
“We had no time,” Siriano revealed at the E! Oscars preshow last February. “I fit his stylist’s assistant in this dress because we had no time.”
Fortunately, it didn’t need any alterations before Porter debuted it on the carpet. And Siriano wasn’t surprised by the impact the ensemble made.
“It was like, If we were going to do a tuxedo, we can’t just do a tuxedo. It has to be a moment,” he said. “I don’t think any man has ever worn a gown on the Oscars red carpet before. He really is the person to do it.”