Monday, December 06, 2010

In Memoriam: Ryan White

At a time when AIDS and HIV bore an even greater stigma than they currently do, it took a teenager named Ryan White to dispel many of the myths regarding these infections...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn a hemophiliac on this day in 1971, in 1984 Ryan White received a tainted batch of Factor VIII; having nearly died from a bout with pneumonia, he was diagnosed with HIV in December 1984 and given six months to live.

The fact that Ryan White lived another five and a half years is fortunate; not only did it give him the chance to finish high school, it also gave him and his mother Jeanne time to battle the school board and the good people of Kokomo, Indiana, who refused to allow his attendance.

Despite the fact that he was thirteen at the time of his diagnosis, many of his fellow students (and not a few of their parents) had subjected him to vicious homophobia, including vandalism of their home; yet Ryan White never turned homophobic - as some hemophiliacs were known to do in the early days of AIDS - nor did he care to think of himself as an 'innocent victim'. In fact, his mother later credited Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City with prolonging Ryan's life by suggesting experimental treatments which were as yet unknown in the Midwest. Eventually Ryan would be allowed to attend Hamilton Heights High School in nearby Cicero, thanks to the school's particularly enlightened principal, Tony Cook, and superintendent Bob G. Carnal.

As is usually the case in these stories, the more the bigots tried to fight, the more attention Ryan's story got, and whenever Ryan White was allowed to speak for himself he usually won the day; his testimony at President Reagan's too-little-too-late AIDS commission in 1988 was the only testimony to receive applause from the committee members.

By the time he died in April 1990 much had changed regarding the public perception of AIDS and the people who live with it; four months after his death, Congress passed the Ryan White Care Act, which today pays for half a million people a year in the United States who would not otherwise be able to afford it to receive treatment for their condition.
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