Let them give blood

On November 18, 2012

"Have you ever had sexual intercourse with a man who has had sexual intercourse with another man, even once?"

When your pants were off and you sat there in pending lust and passion, did you ask your partner the sex of his previous partners? You took note, too, of course. You have an inventory to refer to when answering the Red Cross' blood donation questionnaire, right?

If you're a straight female, you probably never thought to ask the guy you're about to bang if he has had intercourse with another man before. You can assume, but having not asked, can you be positive?

But if you're already sitting down to donate blood, you'll answer the proposed question with a "no" without hesitation.

Do otherwise and your blood is invalid.

Whenever I pass a blood drive, I can't help but cringe a little. It isn't a fear of needles that leaves a pang in my stomach - it's the blatant discrimination toward gay men who want to donate blood.

The discrimination affects more than gay men, who federal agencies refer to as "MSMs" (men who have sex with men).

As a woman, if you have had sex with MSMs, you can't give blood ... for 12 months. Women can have sex with multiple HIV/AIDS-infected partners, and if they have not contracted the disease, can give blood a year later.

A man who has had sex with a man - even just once - since 1977 (the year the FDA regards as the start of the AIDS epidemic) is prohibited from giving blood for life. The Food and Drug Administration instated the rule  in 1983 at the start of the AIDS epidemic - a time when the virus was poorly understood.

I understand why the rule was instated in '83. How AIDS is contracted and spread was still in an infancy of understanding. The technology to test blood then could only detect the virus' antibodies. Now, AIDS-detection technology checks for parts of the actual virus. It's advanced. All blood donated is tested rigorously.

Nearly 30 years later, the policy should not still stand. Everyone is at equal risk of contracting HIV; the risk comes from sexual behavior, not from sexual orientation. We understand this as a society more so than in the '80s and early '90s.

A straight person who has unprotected sex with multiple partners can give blood, but a gay man in a monogamous relationship can't. It doesn't make sense.

Some universities, like San Jose State University and Southern Oregon University, have gone as far as to ban blood drives on their campuses in protest of the injustice.

While the thought behind protesting seems progressive, the action is harmful. Policies need to be changed, but no one should stop donating blood as a response. It's estimated 4.5 million Americans will a need blood transfusion each year. New York continues to have its brush with blood shortages, especially following Hurricane Sandy.

Due to the hurricane, multiple previously scheduled blood drives were canceled. In the face of a shortage, no Americans who are also gay men can do their part to curb that - unless they lie.

In high school, an openly gay friend of mine was a key organizer in a local blood drive. After putting countless hours of organizing and promoting into the event, he wasn't willing to let a backwards rule prevent him from helping save a life.

The police didn't roll in and reprimand him from lying on the Red Cross' questionnaire. His gay blood, disease free, wasn't any different than the blood donated by the straight people that day. We can presume - despite his previous sexual encounters - his blood went on to be used in a blood transfusion.

But he shouldn't have to lie.

The restriction shouldn't be on gay men; it should be on people who are not sexually responsible. There are plenty of straight people who are sexually irresponsible and at risk for HIV/AIDS. The rules are strict on the gay community and too loose on the heterosexual community.

I'm not saying the Red Cross should take everyone's blood - there obviously needs to be set criteria to ensure blood is healthy. But the FDA's current guidelines basically imply if you are gay, you have AIDS. It's a decades-old stereotype that needs to be broken. HIV doesn't discriminate, and the Red Cross shouldn't either.

The true disservice is being done to the patients who need life-saving transfusions. Gay blood works just as well as the straight kind.


Email: sara.dinatale@ubspectrum.com

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