Banning Gay and Bi Men From Donating Blood is Bigoted and Homicidal – or, Why the FDA Wishes There Were More Virgins

By Halley Cohen
Director, GLOE – Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement

If you are a man who has slept with another man since 1977, or, if you are a woman who has slept with a man who has slept with a man since 1977, you are ineligible to give blood in this country.

So sayeth the FDA.

And therefore, so sayeth every organization that runs blood donation services, which are required to follow the FDA’s guidelines and recommendations. (Section E, 1)

There is a critical blood shortage in this country. We need all the blood we can get.

Shortages are more likely in the summer, when businesses and schools run blood drives less often, and these past two months have apparently been the slowest in twelve years. Any quick search on “US blood shortage” will bring up thousands of recent articles.

There is a large, active, socially-conscious LGBTQ population in DC.

Many of us are ineligible to donate blood. Not for having any disease or traveling to “dangerous” countries or having the sniffles that day.

Being gay is an immediate disqualification.

Wait, I take that back – because they say it’s about behavior, not sexuality. So as long as you are a virgin who remains celibate, you can be gay and donate blood.

Gee, thanks.

Were they actually being logical about this screening question, ANYONE who has had sex with ANYONE would not be allowed to donate.

A virgin-only blood supply.

Because you don’t know all the partners of your partners. Like your high school sex ed teacher explained, you’re sleeping with everyone that person has ever slept with, and so on and so on.

But they probably figured out that using only celibate virgins would make the blood shortage worse, at a time when only 3 out of every 100 people in theUS donate blood. Maybe not quite a realistic solution, though it is the logical end of their argument.

The FDA policy to exclude men who have slept with a man comes from the early 1980s, when we were still figuring out HIV/AIDS and our tests for it weren’t so great.

Our tests now are pretty good. And all blood gets screened anyway.

Let me say that again:
All blood donated gets screened for HIV/AIDS anyway.

Health and Human Services could’ve changed this policy last year, but chose not to.

Non-gay men have HIV/AIDS, too. This statement should not be news to anyone (except, perhaps HHS).

In DC, where1 in20 people is infected with HIV/AIDS, it is criminal to perpetuate the stereotype that it’s “the gays” that get AIDS; this screening question does exactly that. It tells people that if you aren’t in that risk group, you can relax a little. That stereotype was why for years the rate of HIV/AIDS was going down in the LGBTQ community, while it was rising everywhere else (though there is a current resurgence).

Dawson students promote awareness for End the Ban during the blood driveI am incredibly moved by stories of gay and bisexual men (and the women who have slept with them), who have to lie on these screening questions because they know that they are as healthy as anyone else and they know how desperately the blood is needed, just so they can donate anyway. These are especially moving here in the DC area, where someone needs blood every 17 seconds.

Today at the J, there is a blood drive, from 4:30-8:30. Please know that I fully believe in blood donation and would never tell anyone not to donate when they see a local organization holding a blood drive. Many members of the blood banking industry “support a data-based reconsideration of deferral criteria.” In other words, not kicking out people just for being a guy who has slept with a guy. Or being a woman who has slept with a guy.

I am eligible to donate. Frankly, I’m healthy, have awesome veins, and am not particularly bothered by needles. I am even type O, the universal donor.

And I’m incredibly torn by this issue. I hate participating in bigotry, even bigotry by silent assent. Especially by silent assent.

Yet, not donating punishes only sick people. Not donating wouldn’t cause a shortage that might make the FDA notice; it would only make an existing shortage worse. As Jews – as people – we have the responsibility to save lives where we can. And also a responsibility to speak up for those who have been wronged.

Perhaps the FDA should consider that, in this time of the worst blood shortage crisis in over a decade, cutting out millions of potentials donors is a terrible, homicidal idea.

A 22-year old man was turned away from donating blood in Gary, Indiana this week because the workers thought that he looked gay.

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