Do you remember Ryan White? Do you remember this young man who died, publicly, of HIV-AIDS?
I think of him from time to time, this brilliant young man who was "done too soon," who endured years of hatred, years of insults — because he got sick.
I remember, years ago, picking my son up from school on a spring afternoon. I was listening to WLS in Chicago (never a good idea these days), and I heard a caller condemn Ryan White to the depths of Hell. The caller was convinced, and argued, that this young man got what he deserved, that if he himself hadn’t sinned in his lifetime, then God must have killed him because one of his ancestors must have sinned horribly.
Yes, that was the argument.
Today, President Obama remembered Ryan White in a big way.
Today, President Obama signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009. It represents our ongoing commitment to ensuring access to needed HIV/AIDS care and treatment. The White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) worked very closely with Congress on this bipartisan legislation, and the consensus document developed by the HIV/AIDS advocacy community was an important part of the process. We were so pleased that Jeanne White-Ginder, Ryan White’s mother, was here at the bill signing.
The Ryan White Program is the largest federal program specifically dedicated to providing HIV care and treatment. It funds heavily impacted metropolitan areas, states, and local community-based organizations to provide life-saving medical care, medications, and support services to more than half a million people each year: the uninsured and underinsured, racial and ethnic minorities, people of all ages.
The President also announced today the elimination of the HIV entry ban. Since 1987, HIV-positive travelers and immigrants have been banned from entering or traveling through the United States without a special waiver. In July 2008, Congress removed all legislative barriers to repealing the ban and paved the way for HHS to repeal the ban. A final rule will be published in the Federal Register on Monday, November 2nd and will take effect in early January 2010. That means that people who have HIV and are not U.S. citizens will be able to enter the U.S. starting in January next year. This is a major step in ending the stigma associated with HIV.
And the sad thing is, would Ryan White have died in 1990 — theoretically — if the Reagan Administration had given medical science the funding to find the cause of and fight AIDS instead of segregating it as a gay disease? Would an anonymous thug have come along and kicked over Ryan’s headstone if Reagan had been slightly more enlightened?
Yes, we still have to ask those questions. It could all happen again. We still have plenty of people in our society who are seemingly at war with science.
I’m starting to like this Obama as President of the United States.
However, this isn’t about President Obama.
This is about a young man who was gone too soon.
Peace, Ryan. We remember you still.