Thursday, April 8, 2010

Remembering Ryan White

It's unbelievable that it was 20 years ago today that heaven got another angel.

Ryan White finally was taken from us on this date in 1990. His soft-spoken voice and wonderful smile became a new symbol for what HIV and AIDS looked like in this country. That, despite the horrible rumors, the disease actually did occur outside the gay community, and that it was a disease that could effect a 13-year-old boy who just wanted to be normal.

I remember the fight, and, yes, I can remember the fear fueled by misinformation and disinformation that gripped nearly everyone. Early on, it fostered hate towards a young man who needed only love. I am about four years younger than Ryan, and I can remember the what-we-see-now-as knee jerk reaction to his diagnosis. Despite the assurances of (at the time) Indiana State Health Commissioner Woodrow Myers that Ryan's disease was not contagious in everyday contact, Ryan was barred from the Western School Corporation sparking a legal fight that ended up with him winning the right to attend school. Finally, after being ostracized and threatened, White was enrolled at Hamilton Heights High School in Cicero where he was accepted, finally. His fight to simply go to school and live a normal life despite having not only HIV but Hemophilia was inspiring, and his willingness to serve as a spokesperson for those suffering from HIV and AIDS was remarkable.

In the end, Ryan lost his battle with HIV and AIDS at the age of 18. It's important to remember his legacy because even though he was so very young; he told us all that it's ok to put away our fears with education and love. Congress enacted legislation that has been renewed that bears his name. He did so much to advance the cause of those living with HIV today simply by being himself and trying to be as normal as he could be.

I never got a chance to meet him, but I feel like I knew him. When he died, it was like a friend had passed. I can remember seeing my parents cry that day. Those memories persist, and I doubt I will ever forget them.

Ryan White will always be a shining beacon of hope for what understanding and education can accomplish in this world. How the willingness to educate and be educated trumps fear every time. We miss him today 20 years after his death.

Here is Elton John singing Skyline Pigeon at Ryan's funeral in Indianapolis. Let's hope that Ryan is resting in peace today knowing that his legacy lives on.

1 comment:

Marycatherine Barton said...

Thanks for this reminder, Jon. Ryan White was such a remarkable young man, and taught us all so much.