Arcadia, IN
Hamilton Heights Middle School Plaque Commémorative Étatique pour Ryan White depuis 30 Août 2019
un nom
Born on December 6, 1971, Ryan Wayne White was diagnosed with hemophilia A three days after birth. Ryan received Factor VIII injections, which contain clotting agents extracted from blood plasma, to treat the symptoms caused by his illness. In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, there was no laboratory test available to screen blood products for the disease, meaning that many people who received blood transfusions, Factor VIII injections, and other blood-based treatments contracted HIV/AIDS from contaminated products. This was the case for White, who was diagnosed with AIDS in December 1984 at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

After his diagnosis, the Western School Corporation superintendent and school board denied Ryan admittance to Western Middle School in Russiaville, Indiana. He cited the schools “habit of keeping kids out who have communicable diseases,” as well as concerns about the safety of other students. In order to ensure Ryan had access to education, the school set up a phone line through which Ryan could listen to lectures and participate in class, although the sound was often garbled and the system ineffective.

In July 1985, the Indiana Board of Health issued guidelines for children with AIDS attending school. The guidelines stated, “AIDS. . . children should be allowed to attend school as long as they behave acceptably. . .and have no uncoverable sores or skin eruptions.” In November, the Indiana Department of Education ruled that Ryan was to be admitted to classes at Western Middle School.  After a series of appeals, restraining orders against Ryan, and other legal actions, Ryan’s crusade to attend school, which by this time had garnered national attention, was successful and he returned to school in April 1986.

In school and out, Ryan faced intense discrimination while living in Kokomo. In a 1988 statement, Ryan recalls this time: "Some restaurants threw away my dishes, my school locker was vandalized inside and folders were marked ‘fag’ and other obscenities. I was labeled a troublemaker, my mom an unfit mother, and I was not welcome anywhere. People would get up and leave so they would not have to sit anywhere near me. Even at church, people would not shake my hand."

Because of this hostility, the Whites moved away from the town in which both Ryan and his mother Jeanne were born. The family settled thirty miles away in Cicero, Indiana in May 1987. Hamilton Heights High School principal Tony Cook received word that the Whites were intending to move to his district in April and immediately began laying the groundwork for a smooth transition. With support from his superintendent and school board, Cook made the decision that Ryan would be admitted, without restriction, as long as he was healthy enough to attend school. With that decision made, Cook, Hamilton Heights High School, and the community of Cicero set out to ensure that Ryan was welcomed with open arms into the community.

After speaking with the Indiana Department of Health and collecting all available information on AIDS he could find, Cook made himself available to anyone in the community who had questions or concerns about Ryan living and attending school in the area. Over that summer, Cook addressed rotary clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, churches, and individual community members, all in an effort to assuage fears and educate the public.

During the first two days of classes, in the 1987-1988 school year, Principle Cook addressed the student body, educating them on the situation and answering any and all questions or concerns. He recruited members of the student government to act as student ambassadors to speak with students, support Ryan, and face the press. In the end, only three families decided not to send their children to school when Ryan began attending classes. He spoke about his family’s acceptance into the community, saying: “We did a lot of hoping and praying that the community would welcome us, and they did. For the first time in three years, we feel we have a home, a supportive school, and lots of friends.”

Ryan became a nationally known AIDS education advocate because of his experiences. He became the so-called “poster child” for the AIDS crisis and appeared in fundraising and educational campaigns nation wide. He appeared on television, was involved in the production of the biographical movie The Ryan White Story, spoke in schools, and testified in frony of the Presidential Commission on the HIV Epidemic, all while battling the disease. Through this work, Ryan became close with many celebrities, including Elton John, Michael Jackson, and his celebrity crush Alyssa Milano.

Ryan was admitted to Riley Hospital for Children on March 29, 1990 with a respiratory infection. He died on April 8, 1990. Just months later, congress passed the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act. The act provides federal funding for HIV and AIDS community-based care and treatment services.

Photos © Indiana Historical Bureau

30 Août 2019
Indiana Historical Bureau, Indinapolis