The Politics of Banning Gay Blood

January 15, 2014 in inQueery

blooddonTXTEarly college days can be stressful for even the most prepared. For some, they represent a chance to branch out and establish themselves. For others, those days pass by with nerve-wrecking anxiety that doesn’t quit until grades for the first semester are posted. For me, it was a chance to explore not only what the world had to offer, but what I could offer the world. In those early days, I chose to give back when the first opportunity presented itself. That opportunity was the chance to save a life through blood donation.

Since my blood-type was O-negative (commonly known as the universal donor blood), I thought the least I could do with it was donate it to someone who might need it in the future. That dream was dashed due in part to my own insecurities and the FDA’s ban on blood donations from any man that has had sex with men since 1977.

When I walked into the donation center and sat down, everything seemed fine. The woman helping me seemed incredibly nice and professional as she read off question after question listed on her form. That was until the question of same-sex contact came up. At this stage of my college experience, I had a slight lisp. Though it was never something I was ever ashamed of, it was a feature of my speaking voice that everyone used to make the (correct) assumption that I was gay. The woman sitting across from me also picked up on that. So when the question came about if I’d ever had sex with a man (and there is no difference in the FDA’s eyes around protected sex with gay men) since 1977, I froze. Being an immature and virginal eighteen year old, I immediately felt uncomfortable and insecure at not only the question, but the judgment I felt was going to be passed if I answered correctly. I thought about what she had just asked me for a moment until I finally said “yes, I have.” Those three little words barred me from ever donating blood in my lifetime.

The FDA‘s blood ban policy for men who have sex with men went into effect in 1977 when the AIDS crisis began to claim the lives of many, and was not widely understood (Red Cross, 2014). Since then, many drugs have become available to stabilize the lives those who suffer from HIV; offering them decades of longevity as opposed to the mere months that were left to live after the initial diagnosis (Griffiths, 2013). Now that we have a better understanding of HIV and the way it works, the next logical conclusion would be to replace existing rules on gay blood donation such as the U.K. which makes gay men eligible to donate after a year of abstaining from sex with other men, or simply retooling the questions asked for blood donation. Instead, a life-time ban persists. But what if a gay man were to lie the other way around and donate blood anyway? And what if a heterosexual man or woman has the virus but doesn’t know? Well, the Red Cross has that covered too.

Newer testing methods have ensured every blood donation accepted is rigorously examined for viruses and pathogens which could put a potential recipient at risk. By that measure gay men should be able to donate blood, but the excuse of the fear of false-negatives rings through, so no, they still can’t. To put into context how outdated and harmful this policy is, even the American Medical Association has voted against it as recently as June 2013, stating that the policy is more motivated by homophobia than it is sound science (Crary, 2013). If doctors are willing to establish the means to get fresh blood to patients who need it, it should be the position of the FDA that there not be any rebuffs on gay blood donation, but there are. As a result, thousands go without the life-saving blood they need, and blood banks continue to run low on a gift they won’t accept if the donor is gay.

Because it wasn’t enough to just say ‘no thanks’, I was placed on a list with others whose hands reached out to give only to be slapped away with a shocking “I don’t think so.” For the first time in my life I felt ashamed of my same-sex attractions and how, in the eyes of the FDA, I was somehow less of a person than everyone else in that center. I have to also acknowledge that part of it was my fault. I could have easily told the truth and had my blood donated that day, but that wouldn’t have stopped me from answering that question differently in the future. In the future, I would have said yes again, and the ban would have happened regardless. The saddest part of this story won’t come from this article, but it will come from the recipients who are denied perfectly acceptable blood donations because of antiquated laws regarding the use of gay blood.

J.J. Medina is a guest contributor at InQueery.
You can follow J.J.’s personal and business ramblings on Google+

    Bibliography

  • Crary, D. (2013, September 15). Gay blood donors ban endures in the u.s., despite lacking ‘sound science’.www.huffingtonpost.com, Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/15/gay-blood-donors-ban_n_3932001.html
  • Griffiths , S. (2013, December 18). ‘being hiv positive is no longer a death sentence’: Those who take medication may live almost as long as the general population.Mail Online, Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2525956/People-HIV-positive-live-long-general-population-treatment.html
  • Red Cross. (2014, January 13). Blood testing. Retrieved from http://www.redcrossblood.org/learn-about-blood/what-happens-donated-blood/blood-testing