Updates on Ending the Ban on Gay Blood

July 23, 2014 in inQueery

NBDBack in August, one of our writers published a piece on his experience as a gay male trying to donate blood and being turned away. Since then, the issue of confronting the system in an effort to stop the ousting of gay and bisexual men from donation centers has been gaining momentum and hopefully this means that some change is afoot. 1983 was the year the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) banned men who have had sex with men (MSM) from donating their blood to the Red Cross and other donation centers. But throughout the country, there are donation sites that don’t agree with the way things are and are taking action to have others follow suit. Granted, when the policy came into effect, little was known about HIV and how to prevent it. Its status as a very real threat to lives was reasonable in its heyday. But now, with all of our breakthroughs in HIV treatment and prevention, many are asking: isn’t it time to break down these barriers if they can help save lives? What is passed off as risk assessment is outdated and is actually blatant discrimination against gay and bisexual men and their partners.

So on July 11, the Gay Blood Drive took place nationwide with allies, family members and friends giving blood in place of those deemed “unqualified to give” by the FDA. The event is basically a strategy to bring attention to just how many willing MSM donors exist and showing how much blood could be given to save lives should the ban not exist. The drive goes hand-in-hand with the petition to have our government review these discriminatory policies. Once the petition gets 100,000 signatures, the White House has to respond and hopefully, they will not only revisit the current situation but also turn it around and strike down the ban. (They need the 100,000 signatures by July 31st, so sign now!)

I interviewed the San Francisco Drive Leader, Mairead Walsh, about some of the details on the current situation and to hear about the support that came out earlier this month.

What does the screening process say about HIV status? How does the screening process acknowledge those who have been tested and know that they are negative?
“It doesn’t say anything about HIV status. You can have 6, 10, 20 years of testing that show that you’re negative and it doesn’t matter.”

She says the real emphasis is on sex between men, unprotected or not (since the screening does not always specify this, either). Those who are deemed ineligible to give blood are, specifically, men who have had sex with men or women that have had sex with any MSM since 1977 through the date of screening. Basically, if that is true for you, then you’re not allowed to donate blood.

How did the blood drive go on the 11th?
“In San Francisco, we had 29 people come out to donate blood. Scott Wiener came out and show[ed] his support. The rest were just locals coming out.”

Is the drive ongoing?
“We’re trying to have the drive only on one day nationwide, but some people are doing it later. You can still donate [and] you can say you’re donating it for a gay man in their honor who can’t donate.”

She informed me that The Blood Centers of the Pacific (who were working the event in San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Rosa) are absolutely for overturning the ban. You can continue to donate there – just mention the Gay Blood Drive. They will definitely make a note of that when you donate so your support will be acknowledged in the fight against this discrimination.

What are your plans for the future if we can’t get the signatures in time? Will there be more drives or another petition?
“The plan is to have [the drive] annually until it does get changed or reversed.”

Mairead will be hosting the San Francisco Drive next year as well. She is hoping that with earlier planning and more advertising, the event can continue to grow. She also pointed out that other countries around the world are repealing the ban and so it should be only right that the U.S. do the same.

Stay tuned for more news as this issue garners more support and visibility.

Katie Tims is a Staff Writer and Editor at InQueery.
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