If you’re a gay or bisexual male, your blood isn’t wanted. At least, that’s what federal policy says.
This Thursday, the American Red Cross held a blood drive in Tennant Hall. Students were encouraged to sign up and donate their blood. I arrived about 15 minutes before the blood drive was set to end. Still, there was a line of Albion College students waiting to be admitted.
The registration table offered an informational packet outlining the qualifications for giving blood to the Red Cross. According to the American Red Cross website, if one has acquired a piercing in the last 12 months, he or she may only donate blood if “the instruments used were sterile or single-use equipment.” The same goes for tattoos.
And then, I read this one this one: you should not give blood (read: you cannot donate) if you “are a male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977.”
This “gay blood ban” was created in 1983, at the height of HIV/AIDS hysteria in the United States. For all intents and purposes, this restriction made sense. The first available HIV tests were nowhere near as accurate as the ones that exist today. Now, there are tests that detect the presence of HIV as early as two weeks after its acquisition.
A similar ban in the UK was lifted earlier this month. In the U.S. however, the exclusion persists.
As recently as 2010, a government health committee voted to uphold the ban on homosexual and bisexual male blood donations.
According to statistics of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), of the estimated new HIV infections in 2009 sixty-one percent of those infections were in men who have sex with men. While this percentage is high, we must remember that HIV/AIDS is not a “gay disease.” The virus afflicts heterosexuals, and can be contracted through heterosexual intercourse. Upholding a ban that specifically targets non-heterosexuals perpetuates the myth that HIV/AIDS is primarily a “gay problem,” Anyone can acquire or spread the disease.
Advocates for lifting the blood ban argue that a one-year deferral period for men who have had sex with another man would generate an additional 89,000 pints of blood annually. In a time when national blood shortages are frequent, this would be huge.
The bottom line is: scientific technology has advanced, and it’s time for our policy to catch up.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons