Another side of Barbara Bush: An unlikely supporter of AIDS patients during the '90s


HOUSTON – At a time when HIV and AIDS were only seen as a one-way death sentence, former first lady Barbara Bush became an unlikely supporter when many politicians didn't want to deal with the epidemic.

During the AIDS epidemic of the '80s and '90s, the Reagan's administration and many Republican politicians thought of AIDS as a disease that only affected gay men, and something that could be transmitted by touching or hugging someone who was infected.  

It wasn't until President George H.W. Bush was in office and a teenager from Kokomo, Indiana, Ryan White, changed America's perception of AIDS when he was diagnosed with the disease because of a blood transfusion when he was 13 years old.  

The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency (CARE) Act was signed into law by George H.W. Bush in 1990 after Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy convinced Republican Sen. Dan Coats to get on board with the bill. 

Despite some Republicans having issues with supporting AIDS patients, Barbara Bush took a hard stance in 1989 when she visited Grandma's Home, a Washington hospice center where abandoned infants and children with AIDS were being cared for. Photos showed Bush holding the infected children, a clear message to Americans that AIDS could not be transferred just by touching someone. 




Just like Barbara Bush had done, Princess Diana visited New York's Harlem Hospital in 1989 and visited children infected with AIDS, again showing Americans and Brits that AIDS could not be contracted through a simple touch or hug. 

Barbara Bush's support for AIDS patients didn't stop with just infants and children infected with the disease. During the same visit to Grandma's House, Bush met with AIDS activist and patient Lou Tesconi and hugged him in front of cameras. 

The Washington Post reported at the time that Bush said, "You can hug and pick up AIDS babies and people who have the HIV virus. There is a need for compassion." 

On the day of the meeting, Jim Graham, the administrator of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, a District-based facility that treats AIDS patients, told The Washington Post that, "You can't imagine what one hug from the first lady is worth. We've had so much trouble with all the talk about the dangers of personal contact. Here, the first lady isn't afraid -- and that's worth more than a thousand public service announcements."

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