Donate blood, save a life. We see the billboards. We see the ladies standing outside of college student centers lobbying to get people to come inside and donate blood. They stress the importance of giving blood and how anyone can do it. But what we don’t see is the use of prejudice to exclude certain people from receiving pride by giving blood. Now I know what many people may be thinking. The questions they ask are important to make sure that only healthy blood is being donated. But one question that sticks out that has no legitimate reason to be asked is “Male donors: have you had sex with another, even once, since 1977?” A criteria used to exclude homosexual men from giving blood based on the fear and homophobia that gay males are at a higher risk of contracting HIV than anyone else.

Most of the questions asked by blood donation organizations are to insure that only healthy blood is being donated. According the The American Red Cross, one must be healthy, at least 17 years of age, and weigh at least 110 pounds for women , 130 for men. Seems pretty easy right? Well wrong. According to the FDA once must feel healthy and not feel any pain or odd feelings, have never had hepatitis, tested negative for STD’s in the past 12 months, have not exchanged sex for drugs in the past 12 months, or had sex with someone who has done so, or used a needle to take unprescribed drugs. These seem like pretty legitimate questions, but the next question “Male donors: have you had sex with another, even once, since 1977” doesn’t seem to quite fit.

The reason this question was amended to the criteria questionnaire is because HIV was first recognized by gay men and they were later considered the first at risks group by the FDA and were from then on excluded from donating blood because it was too much of a risk. But is this truly the fault of the homosexual community. During that time, it was revealed that the nation’s blood supply safety systems were inadequate and didn’t properly test to see if the blood was completely free from disease and infection. Many people were infected with Hepatitis B and HIV during that time. The FDA then introduced donor deferral. Donor deferral is the exclusion of people that could be considered high risk. That doesn’t sound like equality. Is it right to throw someone in jail because they have the potential to commit a crime? Is it wrong to not serve shrimp in a restaurant because someone maybe allergic to it? I’m sure most would agree that it isn’t right. Well it is also unjust to exclude ALL homosexual men from donating blood because some people who identify with the community maybe infected.

In the past year, 17, 691 cases of HIV were from male to male contact. Of those, 13,128 were from heterosexuals. Sure, the male to male contact is a larger number, but in comparison with heterosexual contact, there isn’t a great enough number to exclude homosexuals from giving blood. If that were the case, blacks shouldn’t be allowed to donate because in the past year there were 17,960 cases of HIV infection compared to whites 10,929. With those numbers, why should just gays be excluded? The answer is, they shouldn’t be. Depending on what statistic is being used, someone can just as easily be excluded. What’s important is that all the blood is tested before it is distributed.

Blood, before being distributed, is run through many tests. According to The American Red Cross, blood is tested for Chagas disease, Hepatitis B and C, HIV types 1 and 2, west Nile Virus, and Syphilis. If the blood is being tested rigorously to ensure its safety, then why should gays be excluded? According the MSNBC, in March 2006, The American Red Cross tried to release the life time ban on gays donating blood and changing it to a 12 month deferral. The American Red Cross stated that the new and improved technology can detect HIV positive donors within 3 weeks of infection. So that means if a gay male wants to donate blood he has to abstain from sex for a year to qualify to possibly give blood? But the FDA wouldn’t allow it stating that the tests are not 100 percent accurate. If the tests aren’t 100 percent accurate then why aren’t heterosexual couples being banned from donating blood. They have sex which makes them just as likely to contract HIV as two gay males. HIV can stay in one’s body without detection for up to 10 years. Accepting donated blood is taking a risk, regardless of one’s sexuality.

This exclusionary policy bars potential healthy donors despite the increased need for donated blood while simultaneously discriminating against gays. By not allowing gays to donate they are saying that a heterosexual male that has multiple sex partners who tested negative for HIV at that time has cleaner blood than two gay men in a monogamous relationship practicing safe sex. It’s offensive. Blood donation organizations and the FDA are hurting the cause for blood donation. They’re excluding potentially healthy donors solely because of their sexual orientation, not medical back ground. I have gay friends that practice safe sex that , like many people gay or straight, just lie when certain questions come up that they know wont truly affect the blood, but would defer them from giving blood. But personally, it isn’t worth it. If the FDA wants to exclude me from giving blood because of my sexual orientation and not my medical history, health, and current HIV status then that’s fine because saving a life isn’t worth living a lie.

Submitted By: Darren W. from Shreveport, Louisiana

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