Getting to the End of AIDS: Jeanne White Ginder’s Perspective
Jeanne White Ginder is the mother of Ryan White, who contracted HIV from blood products and was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984, when he was 13 years old. He and his family faced discrimination and even threats from their community, and had to fight to get Ryan readmitted to school. They won, and in the process Ryan became a national spokesperson for AIDS education.
After her son’s death, Ms. White Ginder took her own place as an HIV educator and advocate for people with the disease. She has spoken at schools, meetings, and other events for the past two decades, and recently delivered a keynote address at the Whitman-Walker Health forum during the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC.
In this excerpt from her chapter in How AIDS Ends, San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s new anthology, Ms. White Ginder shares some of the lessons she learned from her son and what gives her hope for the future.
By Jeanne White Ginder
…It was hard to understand why people wouldn’t just listen to the facts: You couldn’t get AIDS from kissing, tears, sweat, and saliva. You couldn’t get it just from being somebody’s friend. …[But] people did not want to get educated about this disease in our local community. I could not believe the lies that people would tell about a 13-year-old boy: “He must have done something bad or wrong, or he wouldn’t have gotten this disease.”
Ryan taught me to be forgiving. He used to say, “Well, mom, that’s why we have to educate these people, because they don’t understand.” And I would say, “Ryan, why don’t you get mad? I see this every day and I just can’t hardly help but get mad!” And he’d say, “Mom, they’re just trying to protect their own kids like you’re trying to protect me.”
…To be able to really lick this disease, we have to stop the spread of it. That’s part of my message when I speak to young people. This is really clichéd, I know, but I remind them that every time you have sex with somebody, you have sex with everybody else they’ve had sex with—and that can be an awful lot of people! And I don’t care what kind of family you come from, or what your mom and dad taught you: When you have sex, you have to be responsible for you, because you’re going to have to live with the decisions you make.
I think I have chosen the younger generation to be more focused on, because that’s who Ryan liked to talk to. He said, “You know, mom, adults don’t think this is their problem. But as teenagers, we know it is, because we’re the most likely to experiment with drugs, sex, and sexuality.” So that was Ryan’s focus. And I find that because Ryan liked talking to young people, I like talking to young people, too.
…In a way, I can’t believe it’s still going on—that Ryan’s story still means so much to people. I’m just so proud as a mom: What a legacy to leave behind. Just knowing that one day I’ll see him again, and he won’t have hemophilia and he won’t have AIDS…I really look forward to that day.
And when we finally defeat this disease—hallelujah! I think on that day, I will feel that Ryan did not die in vain.
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To read Jeanne White Ginder’s full chapter, visit Amazon.com or KoboBooks.com to purchase the digital book. All profits from sales of the book go to support San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s free services for HIV prevention and care in communities hardest hit by HIV.
How AIDS Ends features a foreword by President Bill Clinton and chapters by Timothy Ray Brown, Jeanne White Ginder, Cleve Jones, Barbara Lee, Mark Dybul, Paul Farmer, Robert Gallo, Mervyn Silverman, Diane Havlir, Scott Wiener, LZ Granderson, Hank Plante, Eduardo Xol, and Neil Giuliano. Read more about the book here.