Meet Ms. Billie Cooper, one of the fiercest, strongest, most acerbic advocates for the Black, transgender, and HIV communities you’ll ever meet. Loud, proud, and in-your-face, Ms. Billie has been described, lovingly, as “quite a handful.” She has been kicking butt and taking names in the San Francisco Bay Area for a long time, and she won’t let HIV, cancer, or prejudice slow her down. Ms. Billie moved to San Francisco in 1982 after her service in the Navy. In May 1985, she received her HIV diagnosis. Like everyone else diagnosed as HIV-positive in the 1980s, “I went through night sweats, high fevers, debilitating body aches and pains, diarrhea, deep deep depression, and the occasional opportunistic disease.” She turned to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation for help. Unfortunately, she discovered that “at that time there were only very limited services for black transgender people. I recognized that my sisters were also dying of this HIV virus just like the boys in the Castro but we weren’t getting services. I had to take care of my sistas who were also battling the virus. I became a more powerful, more vocal transgender activist and advocate for my trans-community.”
The San Francisco Principles has taught me so many things in the short period of time that I've been involved with them. The height of the AIDS pandemic may be behind us, but the ripples from those inexplicably painful years are still being felt to this day in the form of health injustice, lack of sufficient funding for unique health issues facing the HIV+ community, and general lack of visibility of a generation growing older with this condition. Learning about and seeing the depth of these ongoing issues has opened my heart and changed my life in ways I couldn't have anticipated when I first joined. Leave it to a group of impassioned and lifelong activists to inspire you to change your career to become a healthcare worker! There will always be challenges on this long path of activism, but I also know that there will always be the San Francisco Principles. For the members and this group, I am forever grateful. Editors Note: We are so thankful for your support, Caitlyn, and are still humbled by the fact that it was you with us that inspired your career change. You are going to make one excellent healthcare professional.