A boycott of confectionery giant Hershey is being called for after a teenage boy living with HIV/AIDS was excluded from a school which is connected to the company.
Milton Hershey School have explained their decision on the basis that the 14-year-old boy could potentially infect one of his classmates through unprotected sex. The school is financed by the Milton Hershey School Trust.
The case is reminiscent of the 1985 battle around teen Ryan White, who was excluded from schools in Indiana after protests from parents, which included violent threats such as the White’s house being fired on. White died in 1990 and his pallbearers included Elton John and Phil Donahue. His grave was subsequently vandalized.
However, in this case, the school is not citing parental concerns. In a statement on its website, the school cited the risk of sexual contact.
“We systematically encourage abstinence, and we educate our children on sexual health issues,” the statement says. But “our teenagers are the same as teens all across the country. Despite our best efforts, some of our students will engage in sexual activity with one another. Given our residential setting, when they do, they will be doing so on our watch.”
Ryan White’s mother said:
“[It is] 22 years since my son Ryan passed away after his truly courageous battle with AIDS – and our family’s battle with the discrimination, fear-mongering and misinformation it fostered in Indiana and across America back in the earliest days of the epidemic. The news that in this day and age, the Milton Hershey School rejected an otherwise qualified … boy due to his HIV-positive status brings back horrible memories of what Ryan had to go through 27 years ago when all he wanted to do was simply to go back to school.”
“Hershey – both the school and the chocolate company – should apologize and denounce its rejection of the boy as unfounded and discriminatory and really step up to the plate to educate both their staffs and the public-at-large about the realities of HIV/AIDS.”
The boy told Poz magazine:
I would really like for this school to learn a lesson, a big lesson. But it doesn’t really seem as though anything is going to happen to them for what they did.
I know other kids who are HIV positive, and when they tell who they think are his/her so-called friends, what ends up happening is they get teased or ostracized by their peers out of ignorance. I didn’t think I would have to go through that there, with the house parents or medical staff at Hershey. My mother even went as far as to find a specialist in Hershey who would be able to care for me while I was in their care. I am at a point that I try to block this out—but it’s kind of hard.
The school is being sued by The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Now the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is calling for a Hershey boycott until the school’s decision is reversed and has staged protests in San Francisco, outside the Hershey Company’s flagship store on Times Square and in Hershey, where both the company headquarters and the school are based.
International protests have begun with one in New Delhi on April 5.
“The multinational candy maker, instead of sweetening the young lives across the world, has chosen to make the life of a kid extremely bitter by denying admission in their school. We strongly condemn the blatant discrimination by the company and urge all Indians to boycott their products,” Dr Shibu Cheruvelil, AIDS Healthcare Foundation India Country Programme Manager, told the rally.
Find out more about the boycott Hershey campaign at endhivstigma.org
San Francisco protest photo by Steve Rhodes