The mother of Ryan White, an Indiana teenager whose life-ending battle with AIDS in the 1980s engrossed the nation, wants to meet with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to discuss his comments 15 years ago that AIDS patients should have been isolated.
The former Arkansas governor and GOP front-runner in the important Iowa caucuses said Sunday that he stood by the comments.
That has infuriated Jeanne White-Ginder, who said: "It's so alarming to me."
In a telephone interview Monday with The Associated Press from her home in Leesburg, Fla., she said: "It's very important to me that we don't live in the darkness" when people thought AIDS was transmitted through casual contact, such as by "kissing, tears, sweat and saliva."
"We have to treat this disease like a disease, and like Ryan always said, not like a dirty word," she said.
White was 13 when he was diagnosed with AIDS in December 1984, having contracted the disease from the blood-clotting agent used to treat his hemophilia. He was barred from school the following year out of fear the disease was spread casually. He died in 1990 at age 18.
On Tuesday, the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, and the AIDS Institute were sending a letter to Huckabee asking him to meet with White-Ginder - who declined in the interview to say what political party she belongs to - and calling his comments "completely beyond comprehension."
Quarantine call denied
As a Senate candidate in 1992, Huckabee told the AP in a questionnaire that "we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague" if the federal government was going to deal with the spread of the disease effectively. "It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents," he said then.
In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Huckabee denied that those words were a call to quarantine the AIDS population, although he did not explain how else isolation would be achieved. "I didn't say we should quarantine," he said. The idea was not to "lock people up."
Huckabee acknowledged the prevailing scientific view then, and since, that the virus that causes AIDS is not spread through casual contact, but said that was not certain.
"I still believe this today," Huckabee said Sunday, that "we were acting more out of political correctness" in responding to the AIDS crisis. "I don't run from it, I don't recant it," he said of his position in 1992. Yet he said he would state his view differently in retrospect.
Huckabee outlined his views in 1992 for the AP more than a year after President George H.W. Bush, a fellow Republican, urged an audience of business executives not to fire or otherwise discriminate against employees infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.