Fear Of Gay Blood

They’re having a blood drive at work in a few weeks, but I won’t be giving.

While my gay readers know why, some of my straight readers may not.  It’s not that I don’t think that blood drives are worthwhile.  I feel quite the opposite: giving blood is one of the most noble things you can do.  The reason I’m not participating isn’t because I have an infectious disease or life-threatening illness that would prevent me from doing so.  I have a clean bill of health.  No, the only reason why I’m not giving blood is they won’t let me because I’m gay.

Yep, that’s the only reason.  In 1983 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enacted a ban of any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 from giving blood.  The ban was enacted in response to the AIDS crisis.  Gay men were thought to be of higher risk of contracting and transmitting HIV and hepatitis.  In all fairness little was known about HIV and AIDS in 1983 and the FDA’s response was quick and appropriate.  Many European countries enacted the same ban.

But now it’s twenty-four years later.  Blood donor testing techniques have greatly improved.  From the FDA’s own website, they cite the fact that "today’s highly sensitive tests fail to detect less than one in a million HIV infected donors."  Through the tireless efforts of volunteers, HIV and AIDS education among the gay community has increased countlessly.  It is realized now that AIDS is not a "gay disease" anymore than the common cold.  We know now unprotected sex among straight partners is at risk for spreading HIV as well.

Earlier this year the FDA considered removing the ban.  With blood supplies in critical need in many areas of the country, three major blood collection agencies, including the American Red Cross, argued the practice is no longer warranted. ((NPR, 05,30,2007)) In May of this year however the FDA decided to uphold the ban “leaving in place – for now – a 1983 prohibition meant to prevent the spread of HIV through transfusions."  The FDA’s main argument is that a ‘window period’ exists very early after infection, and current testing techniques cannot detect HIV during this period.  The Red Cross rebukes this claims stating that the ‘window period’ risks have been negated by modern blood tests, which “can detect HIV-positive donors within just 10 to 21 days of infection.” To ensure such risks were minimized further, their proposal included a “one-year deferral following male-to-male sexual contact.”  ((Think Progress, 05/23/2007))

If the risks of HIV transmission via giving blood are so extremely low and straight men and woman share risk of HIV infection when having sex as well, why then is the FDA keeping its ban in place?  There are other diseases that can be transmitted through blood products where the FDA allows at risk people to donate blood.  Case in point: the West Nile virus (WNV).  Like HIV, the FDA considers transmission of WNV through blood donors "extremely low" ((FDA Website)) , yet it doesn’t ban people bitten by mosquitoes (the primary way WNV is contracted) of giving blood.

Could it be that the FDA’s ban is slightly homophobic in nature?  Is there a fear out there of receiving "gay" blood?  Are people afraid that gay blood, even when determined not to contain HIV or any other known disease, might contain something else, maybe another "gay disease" or perhaps even the "gay gene" itself?  If so, this would shine light on the hypocrisy of those who still think being gay is a choice.  If we "choose" to be gay, then why would our blood carry more risks than that of a straight person?  Wouldn’t it be tested in the same manner as a straight donor’s blood?  If we "choose" to switch to being straight, is our blood somehow clean again?

On a more personal level, the thing that irks me most about my company’s upcoming blood drive is the contests they are having to encourage participation.  Every employee who donates blood receives an entry into a contest with some nice prizes.  Furthermore each department is competing against each other to have the highest percentage of employees donating.  If one more person comes by my desk and asks me why I haven’t signed up yet, I’m likely to get violent.  I politely tell them that I am not eligible to give blood and leave it at that.  Although I’m not closeted, I don’t think I should have to proclaim to my entire company that I can’t give blood because I’m gay.  Those who have signed up get a little flier to hang outside their cubicle with pride.  My cubicle obviously is void of such a paper and therefore gives the impression that I am not a "team player."  It’s obvious to me that whoever organized this blood drive and the accompanying contest never considered those of us that, for whatever reason, cannot give blood.

And it’s not because we don’t want to.

29 Responses to Fear Of Gay Blood

  1. Vince says:

    Well Scott,

    It discrimination. I proudly don’t give blood here at our office and I’m glad everyone knows it. I even hint to them, what if they are laying on the curb half dead needing my blood? Would you still care if I’m gay? Screw’em I say.

    Me thinks you should hang a pretty pink paper declaring your pride in not giving blood.

  2. When I lived in Montreal, McGill refused to allow a med-student run blood drive on campus as it was considered discriminatory, and no discriminatory group was allowed on campus. OMG hell broke loose. The best quote was some med student: “I know it is discriminatory, but it’s to give blood to save people.” Sorry, there is no valid reason for discrimination. I don’t care how many lives it saves. Sadly, the med students won, but I protested my heart out. And every once in a while I go to pretend to give blood just to hassle the poor old ladies…

  3. kevin says:

    You can always lie. I work in the blood industry and have also worked with semen donations, also banned for gay men. It is also against the law to pay for blood so to get around it they give “incentives”. It is all bullshit. If you company has an anti discrimination policy in place take it up with superiors.

  4. Baby Milo says:

    I think that this entire thing is discriminatory.

  5. Denny says:

    beautifully written and i couldn’t agree more.

    slightly homophobic in nature? that’s a vast understatement.

  6. Scott-O-Rama says:


    I don’t know the legality of lying about giving blood (it seems it would be illegal), but that’s besides the point because I won’t lie about who I am.

  7. Urspo says:

    it used to be that having a tatoo also excluded one giving blood; goodness knows where they get blood these days, no doubt from turnips. straight ones.

  8. kshippychic says:

    That is truly messed up. If you are healthy, you should be able to give blood, period.

  9. Brian says:

    Why not make your own fliers and pass them out to co-workers who write the FDA and their Congresspeople to voice their concern over this discriminatory policy. That’d be a flier I would want to display with pride!

  10. Kevin says:

    Back in the 80’s I was contacted because I had always given blood, we had races to see who could pump it out the fastest… grin… I always won. Anywho I was contacted because not only was I O-, but I was 1 in 10,000 0- doners that had some super antibodies (something like CMV factor) and our blood was needed for newborn infants & hemophiliacs on a case by case emergency donor status. They needed our blood not to go into the general mix so we could donate when needed at the 11th hour. So they still won’t touch my gay blood and perhaps their outdated policy means a newborn won’t get a chance at life, would you say that their policy makes them baby killers?

  11. Tim says:

    My place of employment is also having a blood drive soon. I gave blood the last time Red Cross rolled into town. I can’t in good conscious continue donating to an organization that blatantly discriminates against gay men.

  12. David says:

    I had the same problem at my college. We have a pretty strong commitment to progressivism there, despite it being the midwest, and I frequently made a fuss about both the blood drives and the military recruiters on campus. Never met with much success, though, as no one was going to buy that giving blood could actually be a bad thing, and no one cared that the military was on campus. I was always personally annoyed, like Scott, that a) I couldn’t participate b) it reflected negatively on my character to others, and c) no one knew why I couldn’t give blood.

    I remember the first time I tried to give blood. I was sixteen and had no idea about the ban. I’d had sex with guys but was still in the closet. Devastating for me, and my first real understanding of the complex web of problems the come with being a gay Midwestern American. Perhaps the most ironic thing was that the guy who had to tell me was queer himself.

    There is hope:

  13. Maddog says:

    The thing that annoys me most is that a female prostitute who’s just finished a night of work where she serviced 10 guys in an 8 hour period can give blood. A gay man who has been with the same partner for 15 years and completely monogamous can’t. Where is the sense in these rules? I too believe it’s just one more way to continue being prejudiced against us.

  14. bonnie says:

    I can’t give blood because I might be carrying mad cow disease. Didn’t figure that out until my company was having a blood drive & offering a half vacation day as incentive. I’m a bit of a needlephobe but that was enough to get me over it, but there in the fine print was a bit about how if you’d been in the UK for a certain number of months back during a certain chunk of the 80’s, you couldn’t give.

    It’s not the same level of discrimination but I was surprised to find out that I wasn’t eligible.

  15. David says:

    Amen, brother.

  16. kevin says:

    When I said you can always lie I really did not mean that you should lie about yourself. I guess I would liken it to Dont Ask Dont Tell, which for the record I think is bullshit, but if you believe that giving blood is something you feel strongly about because it does save lifes then the lying in that case I think out weighs the fact we are gay. I hope that makes sense. I have been in the meetings when the FDA has held their discussions on this subject so I may be a little rash about some of my statemens.

    Love your blog by the way.

  17. Tom says:

    This is the same thing I went through at my office. We have a GLBT employee group and we got together and presented our position to the head of HR. Guess what happened? Our company no longer has contests related to the annual blood drive!! When the blood drive comes around, they simply send an email broadcast out to the employees advising them of where and when they can donate and leave it at that. No posters, contests, prizes etc. This is an approach you may want to try at your office. There is strength in numbers and we are everywhere!!! Good luck!

  18. Jeff says:

    What about gay virgins, can they donate blood? Just a thought!

  19. Greling says:

    Yes, we can donate.

    The only problem is, once I have sex with the man that I love, if we ever get into a car accident, we can never donate to each other. Kind of stupid, isn’t it?

  20. Mario says:

    As it happens, I’ve never given blood. I’m AB+, so there’s maybe 3% of the the population that could even use my blood, but that’s not really the point.

    I’ve just looked up the CDC statistics, and the Red Cross Criteria.

    You cannot donate blood, for risk of HIV, if you (among other restrictions):

    # have ever used needles to take drugs, steroids, or anything not prescribed by your doctor
    # are a male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977
    # have ever taken money, drugs or other payment for sex since 1977
    # have had sexual contact in the past 12 months with anyone described above

    So, Maddog, that hooker is in the same boat.

    Of the HIV infections reported in 2005 (see http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/resources/reports/2005report/table1.htm), HALF were from gay male contact. That, my friends, is WAY out of proportion to the gay representation in the general population, which provides a legitimate reason to say no thanks.

    I’m reminded of an argument I had with my sister some years back about discrimination against women of childbearing age. She was outraged that potentially pregnant women would be forbidden to work in certain laboratories with possible exposures to certain drugs. She was so locked into the equality of the sexes ideal, that she was unable to stop and think about the very real danger that accumulations of the chemicals (over time) could stay with women and thus affect the development of their fetuses.

    I see the same attitude, here. From the gay man on the street perspective, the policy looks very discriminatory, and, frankly, I suppose it is. But the discrimination is not (just) based on irrational notions about gay men. It’s based on real data that really shows there’s an increased risk to accepting our blood. Sure, there are all sorts of tests to make sure that the blood is free if HIV, but remember, modern science hasn’t yet figured out how to test for viruses; they’re just too small. So there’s a window of (mis)opportunity between the infection and the seroconversion, where the HIV cannot be found.

    As for the whole office promotional situation, Tom, I find it shameful. Shameful that the GLBT group went and made a stink and spoiled it for everyone else. I’m reminded of the mega-stink caused some years ago by a drug company releasing a drug (or trying to, I can’t quite remember the details) that was effective only for the Negro population. It ran smack into the “everyone is equal” blinders that are so popular these days. Oh no, the only difference between Whites and Blacks is just some melanin in the skin. That’s all. Couldn’t possibly be any other genetic similarities only within the races. Couldn’t possibly be ANY differences that are medically relevant. The facts must clearly be wrong!

    Sure, it’s awkward when all you want to do is help, and you get told no at the door. But isn’t it just a bit immature to get incensed about that denial? When the gay community gets our HIV infection rates down to where gay contact isn’t disproportionately associated with HIV anymore, THEN we can complain about unfair discrimination.

    ps – Tom, a much better solution would be to allow ANYONE turned away by the Red Cross to still be eligible for whatever benefits that actual donors receive.

  21. Robert says:

    During any blood drive I have been to, to avoid embarrassment to the donors that should not be donating blood for what ever reason. They let you give the blood for lab testing purposes only (training). This avoids people from asking over and over “How come you aren’t giving blood something wrong with you (always followed with a Ha Ha)†.

    One woman I know says she is on medication and can’t. She really cannot stand to be poked with a needle and have it hang out of her arm. She gets gas to put her out to have blood drawn.


  22. Jimmi says:

    I am completely willing and able to give blood but because of this ban I am unable to. Our building has blood drives every few months and its really silly that I have to tell them, Oh I’m sorry I can’t participate because I bat for the other team. I completely understand why this was started, however in this day and age is almost as though it is expected that if you are gay you have AIDS (based on this ban). “Have you ever slept with a member of the same sex since 1982”? etc etc… It’s indirect discrimination if you really think about it. What about the intravenous drug user that is straight and wants to donate their plasma because they need another fix? Do you think they are going to be truthful and forfeit the donation? I’m not pointing any fingers but the fact is, if that person can lie and could possibly have something to pass on, then anyone could. They need to take precautions yes, but at the same time, they need not single out a full community based on same sex relations.


  23. Scott-

    Fundamentally, I agree with you. But I would ask that you consider this: If the FDA lifted the ban, and someone caught HIV from a gay man’s blood… the ramifications to our community would be much more severe than the ban itself.

  24. Sean says:

    Every six months my former employer did a blood drive, and on at least two occasion, due to where my cube was located, the sign-up sheet was tacked to my cube wall. Both times it mysteriously vanished…

  25. Jordan says:

    It’s not like gays are forced to wear wristbands making it known. Therefore, we have the capability of lying. Granted, while that could be considered an integrity issue – as long as you have been tested and realize you’re clean, you’re not doing anything wrong. A friend of mine works for an AIDS Resource Center in my area and has told me the same thing.

  26. Jimmi says:

    I think the point is, we shouldn’t have to lie about it. Haven’t we had to lie most of our lives regarding our sexuality? Its time for a change. The fact that everyone should be given the same level of screening and if that person is HIV positive (straight or gay) they will either be honest and not donate or it will turn up in the screening process. If the blood banks don’t have full confidence that their processes work, then that is a major concern and should be completely disclosed to the general public and addressed. THAT is the hazard, not someone that is a regular gay citizen that practices safely or is in a partnership wiht someone they trust like any married straight couple. Bottom line its about equality.
    I would also like to think that this would be a way that PEOPLE (gay,straight, whatever) get tested.

    Key words: Respect, Responsibility, Honestly and Equality.

    …Jimmi steps down off soap box

  27. C4bl3Fl4m3 says:

    It’s not just gay men they discriminate against. It’s bisexual men and the female partners of those men, too. I can’t give because I’ve had sex with men who have had sex with other men since 1977.

    I gave once before I had sex with a bi guy. They kept calling me up to give again and I finally told them to take my name off the list because I wasn’t allowed to give blood. The volunteer seemed a little shocked, asked me why, and I told her the truth. She was shocked and taken aback, not because I’ve had sex with bi guys but because of the discriminatory policies. Apparently, I’m off their lists now, because I haven’t been called back since.

    I know lots of bi, gay, and queer guys who just lie about it. I think that there should be an extremely well orchestrated boycott of giving blood. Everyone would have to go along with it at the same time so that minimal time and lives would be lost before they’d change the policy. It would be difficult, but hopefully they’d cave in quickly.

  28. rob says:

    thats right red cross is very ruiled I had to stop cause I was raped and all my tests for hiv is negative out 16 months and I gave blood and neevr told about arped cause health care worker told it’s none of there bussness so I then told them they was very ruiled and said you cant gave blood nomore . But you guys goto hospital and u can gave , I called the FDA and told them they was ok he told em raped it 12 months derfer. I have ? since I’m neg should I donate again ? My Dr told me I can and gave me letter also. Thanks

  29. Will says:

    I’m in Canada and the same rules exist here. I’m a gay man however, I lie when I go to donate blood. “Have you ever slept with a man even once since 1977? No…”

    Also, think about this one for a second. Most teenaged boys will experiment with male friends during puberty. Doesn’t that mean that most men aren’t able to donate blood? Canadian Blood Services definition of sex covers oral, anal, and everything in between.

    Something else for you to chew on…


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