When Barbara Murray heard Ryan White’s mother tell the story of her beloved son’s fight against the AIDS virus and his eventual death, Murray was reduced to tears. “I’ve been in AIDS work over 20 years and it takes a lot to make me cry. But her story is so powerful, it just bowled me over,” said Murray who is executive director of AIDS Partnership Michigan, the state’s largest community-based AIDS service provider.
Jeanne White Ginder, Ryan White’s mother, will be sharing her story again this Friday, June 11 in Ferndale at 7 p.m. at Affirmations, as part of her nationwide speaking tour to raise awareness of the upcoming reauthorization vote on the landmark federal AIDS legislation named after her son, the Ryan White Care Act. She will talk about how Ryan was diagnosed with HIV after a blood transfusion in the mid-1980s, how the local church and school in Kokomo, Ind. reacted with fear and ostracized the young boy and her family, and how those experiences and Ryan’s death in 1990 drove her to become one of the nations’ most visible and vocal AIDS activists.
Murray hopes that many people, especially young people, will take advantage of this opportunity to meet and hear Jeanne White Ginder.
“It’s not just because her story is so impactful,” said Murray. “It also reminds us that although much has changed (in providing AIDS services), things in large ways stay the same. Still, the heavy lifting on this legislation is coming from U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.),” said Murray who is concerned that the legislation has not attracted many other strong champions in the Senate.
“This legislation was reauthorized last time was in 2006, and at that point the sunset clause was built into it, which means that if action isn’t taken (this year) we could lose it all,” said Murray, who explained that it would be catastrophic for the Detroit area which will receive almost $9 million in 2009 for AIDS treatment and case management. APM alone will receive $800,000 this year, which represents the bulk of their annual budget.
Murray said that a large chunk of APM’s clients are young, African-American men who have sex with men. But this year, for the first time, they are seeing an uptick in the number of laid-off auto workers as clients, because they have recently lost all their health benefits.
AIDS service providers around the country are concerned about the reauthorization vote this summer for two reasons. First, some senators may question whether reauthorization is necessary given the Obama administration’s health care overhaul plans. A large group of AIDS service agencies and medical professionals have written a joint statement to Congress imploring them to reauthorize the Ryan White Care Act now, and not wait for health care reform, so as not to cause a disruptive break in service to people with HIV/AIDS. APM, the HIV/AIDS Alliance of Michigan and many other local AIDS groups have signed onto the statement.
Second, there is a real concern about the health of Sen. Kennedy, who has brain cancer, and whether he will have the stamina to effectively lead another hard campaign to get this legislation reauthorized. No other senators have shown the same enthusiasm to lead on this yet.
Ryan White died when he was just 19 years old. The legislation named in his honor has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for people with HIV/AIDS. Jeanne White Ginder is on a mission to remind people of her son’s life and how this legislation has helped keep so many others alive. APM and Affirmations have invited the LGBT community to come hear her story and join in her support for the Ryan Whit Care Act.