Ryan Wayne White



Ryan Wayne White (December 6, 1971 – April 8, 1990) was an American teenager from Kokomo, Indiana, who became a national poster child for HIV/AIDS in the United States, after being expelled from middle school because of his infection. As a hemophiliac, he became infected with HIV from a contaminated blood treatment and, when diagnosed in December 1984, was given six months to live. Doctors said he posed no risk to other students, but AIDS was poorly understood at the time, and when White tried to return to school, many parents and teachers in Kokomo rallied against his attendance.  A lengthy legal battle with the school system ensued, and media coverage of the case made White into a national celebrity and spokesman for AIDS research and public education. When he was three days old, doctors diagnosed him with severe Hemophilia A, a hereditary blood coagulation disorder associated with the X chromosome, which causes even minor injuries to result in severe bleeding. For treatment, he received weekly transfusions of Factor VIII, a blood product created from pooled plasma of non-hemophiliacs, an increasingly common treatment for hemophiliacs at the time. Healthy for most of his childhood he became extremely ill with pneumonia in December 1984. On December 17, 1984, during a partial-lung removal procedure, White was diagnosed with AIDS. After the diagnosis, White was too ill to return to school, but by early 1985 he began to feel better. His mother asked if he could return to school, but was told by school officials that he could not.

On June 30, 1985, a formal request to permit re-admittance to school was denied by Western School Corporation superintendent James O. Smith, sparking a legal battle that lasted for eight months. When White was finally readmitted in April, a group of families withdrew their children and started an alternative school. Threats of violence and lawsuits persisted. According to White's mother, people on the street would often yell, "we know you're queer" at Ryan. The editors and publishers of the Kokomo Tribune, which supported White both editorially and financially, were also called homosexuals and threatened with death for their actions. Others felt such actions were both hypocritical and contradictory by stating that Ryan was necessarily homosexual to have contracted AIDS, while on the other hand believing AIDS could be transmitted by casual contact. White attended Western Middle School for eighth grade for the entire 1986–87 school year, but was deeply unhappy and had few friends. The school required him to eat with disposable utensils, use separate bathrooms, and waived his requirement to enroll in a gym class. Threats continued. When a bullet was fired through the Whites' living room window, the family decided to leave Kokomo.

After finishing the school year, his family moved to Cicero, Indiana, where White enrolled at Hamilton Heights High School. On August 31, 1987, a "very nervous" White was greeted by school principal Tony Cook, school system superintendent Bob G. Carnal, and a handful of students who had been educated about AIDS and were unafraid to shake White's hand. In 1988, White spoke before President Reagan's AIDS Commission. White told the commission of the discrimination he had faced when he first tried to return to school, but how education about the disease had made him welcome in the town of Cicero. White emphasized his differing experiences in Kokomo and Cicero as an example of the power and importance of AIDS education. On March 29, 1990, several months before his high school class graduated and before his senior prom, White entered Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis with a respiratory infection. White died on April 8, 1990, a month before his high school graduation.