>Western Tribune column August 19, 2009 Billy Cox

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This is my column from the Western Tribune this week

Billy Cox was a hero to many then, and is still a hero today.
In 1987 Billy received a diagnosis that at the time signaled an almost sure death sentence. He tested positive for HIV. Within a few years he had developed AIDS, and by 1994 Billy had passed away.
During those early years of the AIDS epidemic most patients were silent about the disease and felt marginalized by their community.
Not Billy. He became a crusader and those who knew him saw him as energetic and optimistic, even when most would not be able to find that kind of spirit.
Shortly before his death, determined that a change was needed in the way AIDS patients and gay people were treated, Billy offered his final disability check to start a foundation in his name which helped to direct community resources and talents to help those with HIV/AIDS.
By sharing his experience and teaching those around him how to care for him, he changed the way people with HIV/AIDS were treated and a new dimension in caretaking began, as care teams of volunteers formed to assist those in need. The 1917 Clinic at UAB developed networks of teams that have helped people all over the state.
Now Billy has been honored by having a scholarship dedicated in his name at the UAB School of Public Health. The scholarship will go to students with an interest in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender public health issues.
The dean of the school, Dr. Max Michael, says the scholarship may be the first of its kind in the nation.
This comes at a time when the achievements of LGBT persons are being recognized across the country. Just last week, tennis legend Billie Jean King and former San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk were presented the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Obama. They received their awards, along with 14 others, not because of their sexual orientation, but because they were “agents of change.”
Billy was an agent of change as well.
Bessemer can be proud of Billy, a 1975 graduate of MacAdory High School and president of his senior class. How many can say that they helped change the way a disease is looked at and the way those with the condition are treated? And now he has an endowment in his name that will help future public health providers make advances in fighting it.
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