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.