All The Young Men: Medical neglect and homophobia in 1980s Arkansas

Book review: One woman’s mission to help a community survive when those in power abandoned them

 Ruth Coker Burks (centre) attends the 6th Annual Broadway Sings For Pride Concert at in Manhattan on June 20th, 2016. Photograph: Monica Schipper/WireImage

Ruth Coker Burks (centre) attends the 6th Annual Broadway Sings For Pride Concert at in Manhattan on June 20th, 2016. Photograph: Monica Schipper/WireImage

It’s 1986 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Ruth Coker Burks is visiting a friend with throat cancer at the local hospital when something unusual occurs. The nurses on call are drawing straws to decide who will enter a room marked on the outside by a “blood red tarpe”. Inside, a man is crying for his mother. The writer, incensed by the thought of anyone suffering alone, walks right by the biohazard sign and her life changes forever.

Jimmy, an emaciated, dehydrated gay man, is dying of Aids. He is calling for his mother but his mother, the medical staff and the wider world refuse to help him. Coker Burks phones his mother herself but the line goes dead.

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