I came across a story on The Huffington Post today by Dr. Ken Schneck entitled, “Dear White House: End the Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood. Now. Please?” Before I read any further than the headline, I recalled my own connection with this issue back in my junior year of college when several classmates and I put together a campaign called The Fight to Give Life.
Run via Dickinson College’s gay-straight alliance, Spectrum, The Fight To Give Life was a simple campaign to bring together college campuses all over the nation with a petition that called for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to end their ban that prevents any man who has had sex with a man, even once, since 1977 from ever donating blood to any United States-run blood bank. The ban also includes women who have had sex with a man, who have had sex with a man even once since 1977 — which means bisexual individuals are greatly affected by this rule, as well as gay men. The stipulation was first inserted in blood donation rules when the AIDS scare of the 1980s began and HIV contraction was equated to anal sex, primarily, making it the “gay” disease.
Over my spring break in 2006, my friends and I went on a road trip across the U.S. to gay bars and colleges from Pennsylvania to Kansas and back, on a mission. Here is a sample of the press release that went out regarding The Fight to Give Life:
It is as easy as 1,2,3 on 4/5/06!
MAKE A DIFFERENCE! TRY TO GIVE BLOOD!
Are you a man who has had sex with a man, even once, since 1977 and WANT TO “GIVE LIFE?”
The importance of giving blood is enormous. We are constantly faced with a blood shortage throughout America, however. Due to social stigma and an antiquated policy, an entire demographic of American society has been turned away: gay men. That is why on April 5, 2006, we are uniting throughout the United States of America to attempt to give blood, knowing we will be turned away.
There is a lack of knowledge of how many men who have sex with men (MSM) exist in the United States and how their inclusion would change the blood pool. Therefore, we must show our numbers and willingness to donate blood to prove to the FDA that this is something that would be beneficial to all.
It is as easy as 1,2,3 on 4/5/06.
On April 5, 2006, The Fight to Give Life campaign urges you to attempt to give blood at your local American Red Cross and answer YES! to the question, “Are you a man who has had sex with a man, even once, since 1977?” By uniting on a common day, we can show the FDA the sheer number of people affected by this policy and the diminishing effect it has on available blood for those in need.
We created a website for our campaign and urged all genders to bring a petition declaring their disagreement with the policy to their local blood banks on the same day. We were so successful in getting our message out, that members of The American Red Cross, American Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centers contacted us — they agreed that the rule was outdated and needed to change, but their hands were tied by the FDA. Once the FDA got wind of our campaign, we were invited to DC to meet with FDA representatives, as well as representatives from the aforementioned blood banks.
Unfortunately at that time, we were told that there was still too much testing that needed to happen to assure that men who have sex with men didn’t pose an additional risk when donating blood — for us, that translated into the FDA being stuck in the past. Just because a man has sex with a man doesn’t mean he had or has unprotected or unsafe sex, and it doesn’t mean he has HIV/AIDS or any other problematic diagnosis either.
Even more unfortunately, although we left with the promise that the FDA would be looking into this matter, nothing seems to have changed over the course of the past seven years or so.
This definitely needs to be brought into the public’s view again, as it has been a matter that has flown under the mainstream media’s radar for far too long.