(Cox and co-star Constantine Maroulis in Jekyll & Hyde)
For the message of testing, safe sex, and drug adherence to stick, people need to relate to the messenger, Cox says. Many black women still see HIV as a white gay man’s disease, she believes, and that will only change if a more diverse group of people continue to speak out.
“We have to get many, many types of women out there, so people can see a different range talking about AIDS,” Cox says. “Any time I have the opportunity to bring more awareness [to HIV] I’m there. I’ve been an advocate for a very long time for the fight. A lot of times I do things off the radar. It’s not important for me to get accolades.”
Her first experience with AIDS was when a friend of hers, alone and scared, succumbed to the disease—and that experience cemented her commitment to the cause. Cox’s friend was gay, and she saw his family and friends, many of whom were religious, turn from him in his final moments.
“A big part of it was that he was African-American and in the closet and had just come out, not only about being gay but also about being HIV-positive,” she remembers. “There’s still a huge stigma in the African-American community about being gay. There are still a lot of people living in shame because they lose their family, they lose everyone who once supported them.”
That loss causes physical as well as emotional damage, Cox says.
“When people find out they’re alone, that contributes to the illness too,” she says. “When you don’t have that emotional support it’s a downward spiral. That’s what happened to my friend. I never want to see that again.”