The other nominees in the category were Jason Bateman, Sterling K. Brown, Kit Harington, Bob Odenkirk and Milo Ventimiglia

By Georgia Slater and Tomás Mier
September 22, 2019 11:05 PM
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Billy Porter is taking home the gold — and breaking down barriers while doing so.

Porter, 50, picked up the Emmy for outstanding actor in a drama series on Sunday night for his portrayal of Pray Tell in FX’s Pose.

Porter is the first openly gay black man to be nominated — and to win — in this “category of love,” said the actor.

“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,” continued Porter. “Please don’t ever stop doing that. Please don’t ever stop telling the truth.”

In Pose, the Broadway veteran and Tony Award winner plays Pray Tell, the outspoken and outrageous emcee of the New York City house balls the ’80s-set show centers on. The series features the largest cast of transgender actors and LGBTQ actors in television history.

In the press room after his win, Porter told reporters that representation in media has “the power to create empathy.”

“I feel like physical representation are the only things that create change. It’s when we are available, that we have the power to create empathy. Through the way we tell stories,” he said. “I think being black, I know that being black and gay and out, and being in this position.”

The actor added that he hopes “young queer people of all colors can look at me and know that they can.”

As for what went through Porter’s head when his name was called? “Thank you JESUS,” he told reporters.

“It’s been a long. It’s been a lot of work. It’s been a long time,” he continued. “And I am just so grateful that I live long enough to see the day where I could stand up in front of the world as my true authentic self. My true authentic self, I was told that who I am was never going to work. I was told that who and what I am would never be successful. Period. That’s what I was told. I did not believe that. I did not believe that. This is proof positive that believe in yourself, invest in yourself, Love yourself, and then teach other people how to do it.”

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Porter also netted a Golden Globe win for his work on the show.

“I really had a hard time as an out, black, gay actor making any headway. I wasn’t having a great time living up to the heteronormative masculinity standard to get the straight male work,” he told PEOPLE after receiving the Emmy nomination. “So I wasn’t really working in film and television. And it was just frustrating, you know? It was just frustrating to sort of feel ignored and feel dismissed, and dismissed for even the flamboyant things.”

He added, “So to have this come around and to have it come around in this way is really profound and really special, and I do not take it lightly.”

The show, which also earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding drama series, was recently renewed for a third season.

Last year’s outstanding lead actor in a drama went to Matthew Rhys, who picked up his first-ever Emmy Award for his role as Philip Jennings in the FX series, The Americans.

Porter beat out fellow nominees Jason Bateman (Ozark), Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us), Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), and Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us).

The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards are airing live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles starting at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.