Former first lady Barbara Bush passed away on Tuesday night, but 30 years before her death, she extended her arms to a child in a moment that possibly changed the lives of millions of people living with HIV/AIDS.
In 1989, the first lady visited Grandma’s House, which was one of America’s first residences to care for infants with HIV and AIDS.
The home only had room for four children, who, an official described to The Washington Post at the time, had been “abandoned, abused, or neglected.”
“Some parents of the children living there have called periodically, but only two grandparents have taken an active role,” the article stated.
Bush’s visit included a play-date with 20-month-old Ashley, who tested positive for HIV.
“With her red and white ruffled party dress, inch-long pigtails and precious waddle, she played a solid game of catch with First Lady Barbara Bush yesterday in front of a very attentive press corps,” The Washington Post reported.
According to the United Press International, she also carried 8-month-old Donovan upstairs and quipped, “I’m having company for lunch and I think you’ve burped on my shoulder.”
However, the time Bush spent bonding with the kids wasn’t what would bring change. It was her decision to pick Ashley up and kiss her, hug an adult AIDS victim, and cradle an infant that sent a message to the rest of her country.
“‘You can hug and pick up AIDS babies and people who have the HIV virus’ without hurting yourself,” The Washington Post reported she said. “There is a need for compassion.”
A First Lady has the power to make people think. In 1989 Barbara Bush visited a Washington hospice where abandoned infants with the AIDS virus were being cared for. Some folks were ignorant and thought you could get AIDS from touching someone. Mrs. Bush hugged and kissed the kids pic.twitter.com/V2w41XkXlR
— West Wing Reports (@WestWingReport) April 17, 2018
Administrator of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, Jim Graham, explained to The Washington Post that they’ve had trouble dispelling the belief that day-to-day human contact can spread the disease. He explained:
“You can’t imagine what one hug from the first lady is worth … Here, the first lady isn’t afraid — and that’s worth more than a thousand public service announcements.”
Watch the video below:
Ashley was diagnosed during a time when HIV/AIDS was believed to be a “homosexual disease,” as depicted in the 1993 movie, “Philadelphia.”
In 1988, the surgeon general mailed 107 million copies of a pamphlet to Americans, which described how you can and cannot contract HIV/AIDS.
“The male homosexual population was the first in this country to feel the effects of the disease,” the pamphlet explained. “But in spite of what you may have heard, the number of heterosexual cases is growing.”
At the end of the “Understanding AIDS” document was a quiz, which included questions asking if you could contract AIDS through “casual contact” and whether someone who wasn’t in a “high risk” group had to be concerned.
Since the first known case of HIV/AIDS appeared in 1981, millions of people have been diagnosed with the auto-immune disease.
In 2015, there were over 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States, alone, according to the Center for Disease Control.
While the stigma of HIV/AIDS unfortunately still persists today, it’s possible that Bush’s decision to embrace Ashley helped Americans see that victims of HIV/AIDS aren’t to be feared, but people to be looked at with compassion and kindness.
Therefore changing the lives of millions of people.