On July 11, 2014, nationwide, gay men contributed to blood banks in the only way they legally can: Instead of men being able to donate blood themselves, they have to bring along allies who are legally eligible to donate.
The National Gay Blood Drive isn’t your everyday charity event, it’s also a protest that gives voice to an important and overlooked issue. The FDA bars gay and bisexual men from donating blood.
Almost unbelievably, this law is still in effect. When donors enter a donation center, they are asked to ﬁll out a form that includes many questions—one example of which is “Have your ears been pierced in the last three months?—to establish whether or not a person is at high risk for diseases transmitted through blood. Most regulations on blood donors are reasonable and necessary to accurately decrease the amount of unusable blood, by assessing their risk for diseases including Hepatitis B & C, syphilis and HIV/AIDS. So it is excessively unfortunate that another question on the form asks if the donor is a man: “Have you had sex with another man since 1977?” Answering yes to this question makes a man ineligible to donate blood for fear it would contain HIV.
So, being gay puts you at higher risk for AIDS? According to science, absolutely not. According to the federal government, apparently—yes.
Not only is this belief as vintage as leg warmers, it’s a throwback to 1980s knowledge of HIV and the all too recent HIV scare targeted at homosexuals. Obviously, the FDA is thirty years behind the times. Why exclude lifesaving blood when someone needs a transfusion approximately every 2 seconds?
Here are just a few reasons why this law is just plain wrong: All donated blood is tested. All donated blood is tested for HIV, Hep B & C, and syphilis. So, why make you answer questions about sexual identity? If the FDA is willing to concede that not just gay men have HIV, why ban them as a group?
Sexual promiscuity and homosexuality are not synonyms. Just because a man is homosexual or bisexual does not mean he is promiscuous. But this law doesn’t determine someone’s number of partners, just his gender. Some heterosexual people are promiscuous, and many gay men are not. Obviously.
More women have HIV than men. The largest population of HIV today is in Africa, and over 70% of people HIV positive there are women. Women are more likely to contract all types of STIs, including HIV, because of their anatomy.
There. Now that we have established that this regulation is as unfounded as it is arbitrary, why is it still happening? Why doesn’t the FDA just change the questionnaire? There are so many ways to assess high risk behavior, regardless of how a person identiﬁes. It’s a simple solution. But instead, the FDA forces gay men to disclose their sexual behavior when all they wanted to do was give a life-saving donation. It targets gay men who may then relive the torments they’ve experienced before being comfortable identifying as gay.
And this law works on a bizarre honors system. If you don’t disclose this information, no legal action can be taken against you. Why make gay men hide their identity to give blood?
All these questions deserve answers. But what is really striking is how little awareness there is for this issue. While gay marriage garners the main stage of the LGBT rights platform, blatant discrimination and defamation that still exist in government bureaucracy are ignored.
Why is this issue on the back burner of the fast moving LGBT rights movement? Especially when these kinds of misunderstandings about gay men has caused so much animosity in the past, both during the AIDS epidemic and before.
Most people, even in the healthcare industry, have no idea that this law still exists. It’s archaic, a violation of our rights, and totally ﬁxable.
If you’re like me and want to do something to change this law, here is a link to the National Gay Blood Drive website, where you can sign a petition to repeal the ban on gay blood.