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 failing to be re-admitted to school following an AIDS diagnosis. As a hemophiliac, he became infected with HIV from a contaminated blood treatment (factor VIII) 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 by the general public at the time. When Ryan tried to return to school, many parents and teachers in Howard County rallied against his attendance due to concerns of the disease spreading through bodily fluid transfer. A lengthy administrative appeal process ensued, and news of the conflict turned Ryan into a popular celebrity and advocate for AIDS research and public education. Surprising his doctors, Ryan White lived five years longer than predicted. He died on April 8, 1990, one month before his high school graduation.
Before Ryan White, AIDS was a disease stigmatized as an illness impacting the gay community, because it was first diagnosed among gay men. That perception shifted as Ryan and other prominent straight HIV-infected people such as Magic Johnson, Arthur Ashe and the Ray brothers appeared in the media to advocate for more AIDS research and public education to address the epidemic. The U.S. Congress passed a major piece of AIDS legislation, the Ryan White CARE Act, shortly after White's death. The Act has been reauthorized twice; Ryan White Programs are the largest provider of services for people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States.
On March 29, 1990, Ryan White entered Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis with a respiratory infection. As his condition deteriorated, he was sedated and placed on a ventilator. He was visited by Elton John and the hospital was deluged with calls from well-wishers. Ryan White died on April 8, 1990.
Over 1,500 people attended Ryan's funeral on April 11, a standing-room only event held at the Second Presbyterian Church on Meridian Street in Indianapolis. White's pallbearers included Elton John, football star Howie Long and Phil Donahue. Elton John performed "Skyline Pigeon" at the funeral. The funeral was also attended by Michael Jackson and Barbara Bush. On the day of the funeral, former President Ronald Reagan wrote a tribute to Ryan that appeared in The Washington Post. Reagan's statement about AIDS and White's funeral were seen as indicators of how greatly Ryan White had helped change perceptions of AIDS.
Ryan White is buried in Cicero, close to the former home of his mother. In the year following his death, his grave was vandalized on four occasions. As time passed, White’s grave became a shrine for his admirers.