ON THIS DATE in 1986, fourteen-year-old Ryan White attended a middle school in Indiana after he’d been banned for contracting AIDS. On that day, 151 of his middle school’s 360 students stayed at home due to fears the disease might be contagious. White would endure name-calling in the halls, obscenities scrawled on his locker, and windows smashed at his home. The hostility failed to embitter him, however, and he emerged as a national spokesman about the disease he contracted through a contaminated blood transfusion.
White’s battle with AIDS and ignorance began in December of 1984 when he was diagnosed with the disease, which he received through a blood-clotting agent used to treat his hemophilia. Seven months later a superintendent of Indiana schools, fearing the AIDS virus might spread to other students, barred White from attending a middle school near Kokomo, Indiana. After months of legal wrangling, White was finally allowed to attend Western Middle School in Russiaville, Indiana.
White’s travails bring him national attention and he appeared on talk shows and with famous figures such as Ronald and Nancy Reagan and pop singers Michael Jackson and Elton John. In the process, he put a human face on the disease. “After seeing a person like Ryan White – such a fine and loving and gentle person – it was hard for people to justify discrimination against people who suffer from this terrible disease,” said a spokesman for the National Commission on AIDS after White, just eighteen years old, died from complications from the illness in April of 1990.