I’m guessing every gay man in America is familiar with this story:
You’re sitting in your office while scores of straight coworkers file past you, all chewing on their same stale cookies, a little circular bandage on their inner arms, that self-congratulatory and accusing look on their faces that says, “Look, I’ve just participated in the office blood drive … why aren’t you helping save a life?”
Well, of course, gay men can’t donate blood — and they haven’t been able to for decades now. Ever since the darkest days of the AIDS crisis, gay men have been under a now 33-year-old ban on donating their red stuff. But all that, happily, is about to change.
As TheBlot Magazine reported last December, the Food and Drug Administration is slowly, slowly moving toward its first major shift in this policy with draft guidelines issued earlier this week. Gay men can donate their blood if — if — they are celibate for a total of one year before they do donate.
A curious and, as some feel, a somewhat insulting move. Many LGBT rights groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, have stated that the proposed change, although a step in the right direction, both continues to stigmatize gay men and is completely unwarranted given the new screening technologies being used for all blood. As I wrote back in December, “the logic of the FDA is falling somewhere between nonsensical and tortured. Should we include all heterosexuals having sex (they are, after all, the most likely group to contract HIV)? Of course, we could put a caveat to monogamous couples (or, wait, never mind, people cheat and certainly lie on forms).”
The three groups that supply nearly all of the nation’s blood — the American Red Cross, American Association of Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centers — have opposed the FDA’s ban since 2006. The American Medical Association (AMA) released a statement condemning the ban, stating that “the lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science.” Concerning the proposed change, the AMA added that a “new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.”
One admirable clause in the proposed changes? The treatment of transgendered donors. The draft guidelines clarifies that the gender of donors will be “self-identified and self-reported.” It goes on to say that “in instances where a donor has asserted a change in gender identification, medical directors may exercise discretion with regard to donor eligibility.” An important shift in that, as TheBlot has reported, obtaining a government-issued ID that reflects a non-surgical gender change can be a significant barrier to transgendered individuals.
With this policy, the FDA is trying desperately to separate sexual orientation from sexual behavior, in a move that sounds remarkably similar to evangelical’s “hate sin, love the sinner” approach that no one bought, least of all gay men. But now, if you are a gay man who is feeling a little pressured to give blood during the next office blood drive or if you are little embarrassed that you can’t, just tell your coworkers that the FDA thinks you’re just “too sexy” to do so.
Or you can just tell the FDA directly. According to The Associated Press, the government agency has opened up a 60-day period for gathering comments on the proposed changes and can be reached at 800.835.4709.
(For information on the National Gay Blood Drive, where you can recruit a person to donate in your place if you do not meet FDA guidelines, click here.)
Brock Thompson is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.