Spurred by recent acts of discrimination and violence against children with AIDS and their families, a coalition of movie and television stars and professional and amateur athletes Tuesday announced the founding of the first national organization aimed specifically at combating prejudice against young patients of the incurable disease.
In a carefully orchestrated joint appearance, football players such as Los Angeles Raider Marcus Allen and actors such as Charlie Sheen and Loni Anderson announced their support for the new organization, which they said will combat public "paranoia" about AIDS, especially as it affects those 18 and younger. Many public education and support groups exist for adult patients of the disease but there has been no comparable resource for juveniles and their families, organizers said.
The Ryan White National Fund, named for an Indiana teen-ager who was forced out of his school after he contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion, is expected to raise $500,000 to $1 million over the next year to fund public AIDS education programs and counseling, financial assistance, day care and live-in centers for juvenile AIDS patients and their families, said Elise Kim, executive director of Athletes for Kids, the nonprofit organization that will administer the fund.
The fund's 14-year-old namesake--who became nationally known for his fight to be readmitted to his Kokomo, Ind., classroom after his AIDS diagnosis in 1984--was joined at the press conference by Cliff and Louise Ray, the parents of three Florida boys who carry the AIDS virus and who were forced out of their hometown this year because of community reaction.
Although he was unable to speak at length because he has laryngitis, White, a small, pale boy wearing a denim jacket and a T-shirt, said in a brief interview that he was impressed with the turnout of athletes and entertainers. Later he whispered his thanks to the crowd through a microphone.
Stepping in for her son, Jeanne White said she thought help for young AIDS patients and their families is long overdue. "Finally somebody is listening, finally somebody is caring about these kids with AIDS," she said.
Louise Ray, whose Arcadia, Fla., home was burned under suspicious circumstances in August after her three sons became pariahs at the local school, said she hopes the organization will "teach (the public) that there's no harm in hugging a person who has AIDS." The Ray boys, 8, 9 and 10, now attend school in Saratoga, Fla. They are hemophiliacs and are believed to have been exposed to the AIDS virus from contaminated plasma products used as blood-clotting agents.
Actress Lorna Luft made perhaps the most impassioned statement when she referred to the travails of the Ray family.
"AIDS is not controlled by burning down houses, AIDS is not controlled by shooting out windows. . . . No one should have to go through what these families have gone through," Luft said.