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Former US president Bill Clinton honours Aids activist Ruth Coker Burks at the Attitude Awards – WATCH

In Attitude's Award issue, Ruth recalls she became a beacon of light for the gay community

By Steve Brown

Former US president Bill Clinton presented Aids activist and his close friend, Ruth Coker Burks, the Attitude Hero Award.

In Attitude’s Awards issue – out now to order globally and download to any device – Ruth recalls the moment she decided to become a beacon of light for the gay community and how she went on to help thousands of gay men during the epidemic.

During the Virgin Atlantic Attitude Awards, powered by Jaguar, Ruth was honoured with the well-deserved Hero Award and the former US president presented the Aids activist with the honour.

While introducing his close friend, Clinton – who appeared via video link – said: “Good evening to all of you gathered in London for the Attitude Awards. I wish I could be with you in person, and I want to thank all of you for coming together to celebrate our shared values, our diversity, inclusivity, and love.

“It’s my great honour tonight to present the Hero Award to a woman I’ve know and admired for decades. In 1984, Ruth Coker Burls was a young mother, just 25 years old, from my hometown of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

“She was visiting a friend in the hospital when she came up, quite by chance, a man dying of what we now know is Aids. He’d been disowned by his mother for being gay, and he was crying for her.

“The nurses were afraid to touch him for fear of catching this little-understood disease, and so Ruth sat with him for 13 hours, holding his hand until he finally slipped away.

“Over the next decades she would care for hundreds more people in the same position, and when those who passed away were left with nothing and nobody to mourn for them, she would bury them in her family’s plot in Hot Springs, with the same compassion and dignity as if they were her own relatives.

“Over the years there were more than 40 of them. Some people in town shunned her, but those who recognised the love behind her mission named her the ‘Cemetary Angel’.

“Thankfully, through the dedication of people like Ruth and so many other heroes, and HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, and our society has come a very long way towards treating those who hate HIV-positive with the respect and the love they deserve.

“But in those desperate early days, thank God Ruth Coker Burks was there to stand up against fear and stigma.

“I am so very proud to present the Attitude Hero Award to my good friend, Ruth Coker Burks.”

Watch the former US president introduce Ruth Coker Burks below:

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