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On This Gay Day | Ryan White died of an AIDS-related illness

In 1984 American teenager Ryan White was diagnosed as living with HIV. At a time when little was known about the virus, and discrimination was rife, the teenager from Indiana became one of the human faces of the AIDS pandemic.

White was a haemophiliac, and contracted HIV via blood transfusions. When first diagnosed he was given just six months to live. As the 1985 US school year commenced White’s health improved and he wanted to return to school.

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Hundreds of parents and students signed a petition calling for the 13-year-old to be banned from the school because of his positive HIV status. The Superintendent of the School Board ruled that White could not attend school despite medical experts assuring the school board that he could not transmit his condition except via bodily fluids.

When the school term started on 26th August 1985 White was forced to listen to his classes via telephone. His family fought a long and protracted legal battle with the school that lasted nearly a year.

White is remembered as being one of the first prominent faces of the HIV/AIDS battle outside of the LGBTIQA+ communities.

He appeared with many celebrities including Elton John, Michael Jackson, John Cougar-Mellencamp and US President Ronald Regan.

He spoke on chat shows about discrimination and worked to break down stigma. Actor Alyssa Milano, who was starring on the sitcom Who’s The Boss was White’s teenage crush and she appeared with him, and gave him a kiss – again helping to break down fear and prejudices.

At a time when there were no effective treatments for HIV White surprised his doctors and lived for several years, when they had first predicted he’d be dead within six months.

He passed away on this day in 1990 aged 18, just one month shy of his high school graduation. Over 1,500 people attended his funeral, where Elton John performed Skyline Pigeon. Among the mourners were Michael Jackson, Donald Trump and Barbara Bush.

On the day of his funeral President Ronald Regan, who had been slow to acknowledge the AIDS pandemic, wrote a tribute to Ryan White that was published in The Washington Post. 

Following his death many charities were established, most notably the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised millions of dollars for research and support. Shortly after White’s death Elton Joh entered rehab, the singer had visited White in hospital shortly before his death. He would go on to dedicate the The Last Song to White, and proceeds from it’s sale were given to a fund established in his name.

Michael Jackson dedicated the song Gone Too Soon  from his Dangerous album to White, while Tiffany dedicated her recording of the Diane Warren song Here in My Heart. 

Shortly after his passing the Ryan White CARE Act was passed by the US government and signed into law by President George Bush. It’s the largest funding programming for supporting people living with HIV in the USA.

Lyricist Fred Ebb was born on this day in 1928

Fred Ebb is best known for his collaborations with composter John Kander, together they wrote many hits songs and musicals.

Ebb began working as a lyricist in the 1950s but his career really took after he met John Kander in 1962. The song My Coloring Book was one of their earliest successes.

Their first attempt at writing a musical was a project called Golden Gate, it never got made, but the quality of the score convinced producer Hal Price to hire them for his next project. 1965’s Broadway musical Flora the Red Menace closed after just 87 performances, but nineteen-year-old star Liza Minnelli picked up a Tony Award for her performance in the show.

Their next project would go on to be one of the most successful musicals of the 20th century. Cabaret was a huge hit, and it was later adapted for the screen by director and choreographer Bob Fosse. The film version won Minelli an Oscar, one of eight Academy Awards the film received.

The duo would later create another Broadway smash with Chicago which currently holds the record as the second longest running Broadway musical. Kiss of the Spiderwoman was another of their successes.

Perhaps their best-known song though is New York, New York which became a signature tune for both Minnelli and Frank Sinatra. The song was featured in a film musical directed by Martin Scorsese starring Robert De Niro and Minnelli. Later this year a stage adaptation is set to open on Broadway, it is being directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Fred Ebb died in 2004 after suffering a heart attack, he was 76 years old. His creative partner John Kander recently celebrated his 97th birthday.

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