Blood donations were down 10 percent this past month, according to a recent CNN article. If you would like to donate, the Red Cross would be more than happy to draw blood from you -- unless, of course, you are gay like me. Despite the fact that I would willingly participate in a blood drive, I am ineligible, because the United States excludes men who have had sex with other men (MSMs) from donating blood. Whether you identify as gay, bisexual, or straight, if you are male and have had at least one male sex partner between 1977 and today, you are prohibited from giving blood. Or, as the FDA says on its website, you are "currently deferred" as a blood donor.
The FDA installed this ban in 1983. For the restriction to still exist, there must be many people who still believe that we gays are having crazy, frequent, unsafe sex while swinging from the chandeliers. Believe it or not, this is not true for many of us. There are gay men who lead healthy and responsible lives. And we have blood to spare! My personal sexual history is not a risky one. I have been in a monogamous relationship for 16 years. I am in reasonably good shape. I believe I would be a low-risk, desirable blood donor. But no, I am an MSM and therefore a stereotype. If I were a young man practicing unsafe sex with multiple female partners, I could sign right up to give blood. How does this make sense?
I realize that MSMs have a higher chance of carrying HIV than other members of the general population. But other groups that are also considered high-risk do not face the same discrimination. Blood is screened reliably nowadays, so why deny one group of people the opportunity to give? Can we not push homophobia aside to allow healthy, safe gay men to assist in raising the nation's blood supply back to normal levels?
On the FDA's FAQ webpage about this issue, one of the questions is, "Doesn't the policy eliminate healthy donors at a time when more donors are needed because of blood shortages?" The answer: "FDA realizes that this policy will defer many healthy donors." Add this to the list of nonsensical items.
There is the persistent problem of HIV being perceived as solely a gay thing. In a video that surfaced recently, preacher Lou Engle calls for a youth ministry to pray for the conversion of 100,000 gay men and lesbians in order to bring about the "radical salvations and healings of AIDS." Guess what, Mr. Engle? Gays are not the only ones who carry and transmit that disease. (Oh, and we cannot be "converted," either.) This is 2012, not 1982, so what accounts for this ignorance? If anyone should be banned from giving blood, it should be people like Mr. Engle, who are misinformed about sexual practices and sexuality.
Last month, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support a new study reviewing the blood ban. Senator Kerry reasoned that we must rely "on the science of today not the myths of twenty years ago." Representative Quigley stated that "perfectly healthy would-be donors are turned away based solely on sexual orientation. Equality for the LGBT community is closer than ever but outdated and discriminatory policies like this must evolve to match advancements in science and technology." I, too, support the push to update this policy. I will be first in line when the ban is lifted.