This was 1983, when it was legal to fire teachers for being gay, legal to ban gay rights groups on college campuses, and legal to discriminate potential blood donors based on their sex lives.
And it remains legal today. Men who have sex with female prostitutes can give blood after waiting a year, as can prostitutes. Donors who have had sex with someone with AIDS are also asked to wait a year, provided that they test negative for HIV. But a man in a long-term, monogamous relationship in which he and his partner have been tested repeatedly cannot give blood. A man who had sex with a man once in 1977 and recently tested negative for HIV is also evermore eliminated from the donor pool. So what the FDA ban basically amounts to is the discrimination of potential blood donors based on sexual orientation.
I have given blood regularly for over four years, in three different states and from several blood banks. I have never been asked about my sexual preferences or practices.
You might think, “there has to be a scientific reason for this rule,” as I did when I heard about this regulation—a factual, rational, serious, non-arbitrary, reason. The government claims that the prohibition isn’t about sexual orientation, it’s about safety. Safety, seemingly, against the promiscuous, unpredictable, and dangerous gays of America. Also, did you know that anti-women legislation isn’t about gender, it’s about the greater good?
The so-called practical reasons that were once given were discriminatory and unacceptable, but now they are simply non-existent. The FDA continues to use the rationale that gay men are still disproportionately affected by HIV to classify all men who have sex with men in the highest risk category of blood donors. Even if you gave into the rather preposterous notion that adult men who have sex with other adult men as a whole cannot practice safe sex, and thus, cannot be trusted, there still remains a major gap in the FDA’s logic. Though HIV tests were once unaffordable, in terms of both time and money, today, all donated blood is tested for HIV, with near perfectly accurate results within a fortnight.
In 2006, the three major blood donation centers, American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, and AABB publicly asked the FDA to remove the ban because of the blatant lack of scientific backing for it, and reaffirmed this position in 2010. This summer, the American Medical Association called the policy “discriminatory” and “not based on sound science.” The FDA has heard appeal after appeal, publicly reconsidered again and again, and the body continues to uphold the regulation.
Given the lack of sound scientific reasoning for this ban, one can only conclude that the law serves to discriminate against a portion of the population. The federal rule was passed at a time before the AIDS virus was even identified, when many were calling the syndrome “Gay-Related Immune Disorder” or, more casually, “the gay plague.” America was afraid. Afraid of being contaminated, afraid of their kids being exposed to such licentiousness as that which had caused what had to be a moral punishment, and not a harrowing tragedy. A section of the population was left intensely isolated by this backlash, and the FDA rule continues to enforce that barbaric partition by, in effect, labeling men who have sex with men as presumably diseased.
There’s no gay plague. There’s no straight plague. It’s time to let go of prejudicial laws based on cold, uninformed fear. It’s been time.
The damage is not just in principle but in practice as well. According to the Red Cross, someone in America needs blood every two seconds. This summer, as it often does, the national organization saw an urgent blood shortage, and many blood centers have dipped to emergency supply levels in recent years.
An unthinkably enormous supply of blood has already been lost in collection, is in fact being lost in collection today. An individual donor that donates every two months would, over the course of a lifetime, donate the amount of blood that, statistically, saves over 1,000 lives. A UCLA study showed that turning the lifetime ban to even a 12-month deferral would bring in over 200,000 more pints of blood each year. One pint of blood is estimated to save about three lives by all major blood centers.
With the defenses of “but it’s science!” no longer standing, is our government really willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives every year in the name of what essentially amounts to sexual policing?