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. 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. He appeared frequently in the media with celebrities such as Elton John, Michael Jackson and Phil Donahue. Surprising his doctors, White lived five years longer than predicted and died in April 1990, one month prior to his high school graduation.
Before White, AIDS was a disease widely associated with the male homosexual community, because it was first diagnosed there. That perception shifted as White and other prominent HIV-infected people, such as Magic Johnson, the Ray brothers and Kimberly Bergalis, 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 was reauthorized in 2006 and again on October 30, 2009; Ryan White Programs are the largest provider of services for people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States.
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. As his condition deteriorated he was placed on a ventilator and sedated. He was visited by Elton John and the hospital was deluged with calls from well-wishers. White died on April 8, 1990.
Over 1,500 people attended White'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 and also trained the Hamilton Heights High School choir to sing with him. The funeral was also attended by Michael Jackson and First Lady Barbara Bush. On the day of the funeral, former president Reagan—who had been widely criticized for failing to mention AIDS in any speeches until 1987 although he had spoken on the issue in press conferences beginning in 1985—wrote a tribute to White that appeared in The Washington Post. Reagan's statement about AIDS and White's funeral were seen as indicators of how greatly White had helped change perceptions of AIDS.
White is buried in Cicero, close to the 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.