The Mathematics Of Gay Men Donating Blood: FDA + Queer = HIV-Positive

Contrary to popular belief, all gays are not HIV-positive. This may come as a shock to the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), however, but believe me when I say – some gays are, indeed, HIV-negative.

If you are able to donate blood, be grateful. Every day, individuals die because they cannot receive the proper blood or they receive blood, but there is a problem during transmission. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the FDA is part of the problem of why many people across the country are dying. For the past 30 years, the FDA has discriminated against, among other things, men who have, or has had, sex with men. In 2007, I was one of those men.

In a statement released earlier this year, an FDA spokesperson said, “[we are] trying to protect the public and basing [our] policy on science, not “any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation.” While reading this statement, I had to laugh to myself, because the first time I was turned away from donating blood, it felt exactly like being discriminated against because of my sexual orientation.

I love donating blood. No, I mean it – I love donating blood. No, not the awkward feeling after your finger is pricked. And no, I definitely do not love the feeling of being rushed apple juice and cookies because the nurses thought you would pass out. But I love the idea that my blood can be used to save a life.

In the summer of 2007, while still “in the closet,” me and several friends went to an American Red Cross truck to donate blood. One-by-one my friends went up, spoke to the nurse, answered questions, gave blood, and received juice, cookies, and a sticker of good citizenship for donating blood. As most of my friends went outside, I stepped up to the computer screen to answer the same questions they answered so swiftly. The question that stood out was – “Are you a man who’s had sex with another man?” In my head, I knew I could lie and donate blood anyhow, but I figured the question was for a reason.

Instead of lying, I looked around to see if any of my friends were around, and asked the nurse “what does this mean?” She said very bluntly, “Have you ever had anal or oral sex with another man?” Already knowing the answer, I hesitantly said “yes.” She then told me she could not allow me to donate blood because gay men are at a high-risk of being HIV-positive. I attempted to convince her that I was, indeed, HIV-negative, but she told me it was FDA policy that a man who has had sex with another man (even if only once) could not donate blood. In fact, I was told that my name would be placed in a database and I could not donate blood ever. Well, unless the policy was overturned or other circumstances.

I turned around . . . extremely disturbed with tears in my eyes. The fact is, I felt discriminated against. Let’s face it – the sole reason I could not give blood was that I had sex with a man. To make matters worse, I was still in the closet and did not know how I would explain to my friends why I was coming out much faster than they did.

When I came out of the Red Cross truck, a friend said, “Wow, yours was fast!”

Have I just been clocked? Was my secret about to spill out? Did the FDA place me in an incredibly awkward situation?

I felt trapped and unsure as to how I would answer the question. So, I made up some ridiculous lie about the blood and one of my four tattoos or some problem with a heart condition when I was younger – neither of which had anything to do with my reason for being denied. My friends all had puzzled looks on their faces, but seeing how I reacted, they chose to leave it alone. Though we went about our day without any mention of me being rejected from giving blood, I felt sick, embarrassed, and wanted to crawl into a corner. “Is this what being gay is about,” I thought.

——————

In 1983, the FDA enacted policy that refuses “the blood of a man who has had sex with another man since 1977.” This policy was created at a time where no reliable tests for screening blood for HIV existed.  Now, however, information is readily available and technology has vastly improved.  Because of this new information, myself and many groups across the nation have submitted petitions to the FDA. The petitions demanded an overturn on the FDA policy because it was based on archaic notions regarding who had HIV, how it was transmitted, and unintentionally perpetuated the idea that the LGBT community is sexual deviants.

Over the years, the amount of blood donors have significantly decreased. But why do I care more than the FDA? Why does the FDA not care that they automatically assume that queers are HIV-positive?

After speaking with someone from the FDA, I was told that even after blood is tested, HIV-positive blood could remain dormant without the person knowing, and since gay men are at a high-risk, they ban them [me – you – us] from donating blood.

There are major problems with the FDAs thought-process: First, the FDA is continuing the stigma that only gay men can contract HIV, which we all know is illogical and irrational. Second, by focusing on groups the FDA believe are HIV-positive, they completely miss individuals that may actually have HIV. Third, if HIV may not show up in blood for a certain point-in-time, why is this only important if it is from the blood of a man who has sex with another man? Banning blood from an entire community because science shows we are at higher-risk of having HIV is discriminatory. The problem with the FDA statement released is the person presumes that science cannot be discriminatory. I assume the spokesperson never heard of Charles Darwin.

Having my blood refused made me feel unwanted. Having my blood refused made me feel something was innately wrong with me.

“Gay blood” equals “good blood,” too.

Today, I write this blog to challenge everyone. If you can give blood, do; many lives depend on your services. If you cannot give blood because of your sexual orientation, please write letters to the FDA and begin a petition in your communities. I challenge you to speak to those at donor banks about cultural competency. I think back to my experience in the summer of 2007 – instead of rushing me out the door, the nurses could have allowed me to sit down like a “normal” person, faked me giving blood, allowed me to receive some cookies and juice, and sent me out after my “fake donation.” But no. The nurse was concerned about placing me in the banned forever category without giving another thought to my embarrassment.

That day, I was discriminated against. If you put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig. Similarly, if you cover discrimination by referring to it as “science,” it is still discrimination. Let us work together to eradicate homophobia. This may not be popular, but it needs to be addressed.

Good night and much love.

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