Every few months goodwill and a feeling of generosity fills the SUB as students take a break from classes to donate blood through the American Red Cross. However, not all students are welcomed to participate in blood drives. A dated policy enforced by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enacts a lifetime ban on any men who have had sex with other men from donating blood. The FDA’s distressing practice is a blatantly homophobic act that further damages an already marginalized population.
This antiquated policy excluding non-heteronormative persons perpetuates discriminatory practices and is damaging to both blood donors and recipients. The deciding factor that rejects gay and bisexual donors does not consider sexual health, safe sex practices, what acts actually constitutes “sex” or personal HIV status. Rather the U.S. Food and Drug Administration disparage a person’s worth based solely on their sexual orientation. Banning gay men from donating blood may have been pragmatic in the late 1970’s during the AIDS epidemic. Nonetheless, now that highly accurate HIV tests are available and used on all blood donations, this convention only has damaging effects.
Gay and bisexual men already experience higher rates of discrimination when accessing health services and are less likely to seek medical care. Combined with social hostility and a lack of queer specific sexual education, gay men experience disproportionate amounts of ostracism in the health sector. Barring these persons from donating blood only excludes gay and bisexual men from health services and, as a result, furthers HIV risks and infection rates among sexual minorities.
As supported by the American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, and the American Medical Association, reform on this policy would greatly increase the needed base of blood donors. In the United States on a daily basis more than 41,000 blood donations are demanded. Approximately 2 percent of the US population identifies as men who have had sex with men, around six million potential blood donors; a corrected policy could have undeniably incredible impacts.
Many will point out that gay men do have the highest incidences of HIV infections in the United States at 11,200 cases. Nonetheless, black heterosexual women have the second highest rate at 5,300 infections but are obviously not banned from donating blood. This inconsistency in screening clearly illustrates the flawed practice of banning gay or bisexual blood donors.
At the very least, let this serve as an opportunity to check your privilege. Systematic discrimination is the lived experience the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community faces on a daily basis. If you agree that the injustice perpetuated by the FDA should have been left behind long ago, be an ally, challenge bigoted views and understand that the battle for equality stretches far beyond the surface issues of marriage.