I hope all gay, lesbian, bi, pan, trans, intersex, nonbinary, genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, demifluid, pangender, asexual, aromantic, demisexual, demiromantic, grey a-spec, homoromantic, biromantic, polyamorous, queerplatonic partnered, they/them, he/them, she/them, ze/hir, neopronouned, he/him lesbian, nonbinary lesbian, butch, femme, androgynous, wlw, mlm, nblnb, questioning, QTPOC, queer neurodivegent, queer autistic, queer disabled, and every other flavor of queer folks have a very nice pride month, and that someone hands you a plate of warm waffles with freshly-poured syrup.
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“In 1984, when Ruth Coker Burks was 25 and a young mother living in Arkansas, she would often visit a hospital to care for a friend with cancer.
During one visit, Ruth noticed the nurses would draw straws, afraid to go into one room, its door sealed by a big red bag. She asked why and the nurses told her the patient had AIDS.
On a repeat visit, and seeing the big red bag on the door, Ruth decided to disregard the warnings and sneaked into the room.
In the bed was a skeletal young man, who told Ruth he wanted to see his mother before he died. She left the room and told the nurses, who said, “Honey, his mother’s not coming. He’s been here six weeks. Nobody’s coming!”
Ruth called his mother anyway, who refused to come visit her son, who she described as a “sinner” and already dead to her, and that she wouldn’t even claim his body when he died.
“I went back in his room and when I walked in, he said, “Oh, momma. I knew you’d come”, and then he lifted his hand. And what was I going to do? So I took his hand. I said, “I’m here, honey. I’m here”, Ruth later recounted.
Ruth pulled a chair to his bedside, talked to him
and held his hand until he died 13 hours later.
After finally finding a funeral home that would his body, and paying for the cremation out of her own savings, Ruth buried his ashes on her family’s large plot.
After this first encounter, Ruth cared for other patients. She would take them to appointments, obtain medications, apply for assistance, and even kept supplies of AIDS medications on hand, as some pharmacies would not carry them.
Ruth’s work soon became well known in the city and she received financial assistance from gay bars, “They would twirl up a drag show on Saturday night and here’d come the money. That’s how we’d buy medicine, that’s how we’d pay rent. If it hadn’t been for the drag queens, I don’t know what we would have done”, Ruth said.
Over the next 30 years, Ruth cared for over 1,000 people and buried more than 40 on her family’s plot most of whom were gay men whose families would not claim their ashes.
For this, Ruth has been nicknamed the ‘Cemetery Angel’.”— by Ra-Ey Saley
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