Ryan White (December 6, 1971 – April 8, 1990), c. 1986. Photo c/o GETTY.
At three days old, Ryan White, who was born forty-five years ago today in Kokomo, Indiana, was diagnosed with severe hemophilia, for which he subsequently received weekly infusions of a blood product from non-hemophiliacs. In December 1984, White got pneumonia and, during a biopsy, he was diagnosed with AIDS. It later was determined that White, like many hemophiliacs, received a contaminated blood treatment that was infected with HIV. Doctors gave White six months to live; he lived for five and a half years.
In early 1985, White sought re-admittance to school, though his requests were denied. After a year of legal battles, the school relented. During the 1986-87 school year, White was required to eat with disposable utensils and use separate bathrooms, and his family faced increasingly hostile threats. When a bullet was fired through their living room window, the Whites moved to Cicero, where Ryan started high school without issue.
While the struggle against his middle school brought him national attention, it was Ryan’s thoughtfulness, humor, and bravery that made him the poster child for the AIDS crisis. In his final years, he appeared in numerous fundraising and education campaigns alongside the likes of Michael Jackson and Elton John.
At a time when AIDS was associated with gay men and communities of color, White demonstrated that the disease was exclusive to no particular group. White rejected the label “innocent victim,” as he believed no one with AIDS was guilty. Ryan, according to his mother, “always said, ‘I’m just like everyone else with AIDS, no matter how I got it.’ And he would never have lived as long as he did without the gay community. The people we knew in New York made sure we know about the latest treatments way before we would have known in Indiana.”
Ryan White died on April 8, 1990, one month before his high school graduation; he was eighteen. Four months later, Congress enacted the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, the largest federally funded program for people living with HIV/AIDS in America. #lgbthistory #HavePrideInHistory #RyanWhite (at Kokomo, Indiana)