One out of seven patients entering a hospital needs blood. Yet, of the four out of ten people in the United States eligible to donate, only one does – if at all.
In order to raise that number to accommodate more patients who depend on blood transfusions for survival, the male queer community is insisting that the donor guidelines be updated to include them.
The FDA states that if a man has had sex with another man (MSM) since 1977, he is not eligible to donate for life due to the possibility of the blood being tainted by sexually transmitted diseases. The reason for exclusion has nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the man, but with his sexual behavior, such as anal and oral sex between him and his partner, according to the FDA.
“While blood drives serve an important and necessary function to help save lives, I think the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s] regulations are outdated and discriminatory,” said Sheri Atkinson, the director of the UC Davis Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, in an e-mail interview.
On May 6, UC Berkeley’s ASUC Senate passed a bill labeling the current FDA guidelines “discriminatory” and will no longer permit ASUC funds to go toward blood drives, according to a Daily Californian article. Blood drives are still allowed to take place on campus, but funding from ASUC is restricted.
“To reject people who are willing to give blood does a disservice to everyone. I encourage individuals to write letters and call the FDA to express their concerns,” Atkinson said. “Statements denouncing the FDA regulations from the University of California individual campuses and the system as a whole could also serve as a powerful voice to address this important issue.“
Early this year California State University San Jose’s administration banned all blood drives on campus, stating that the FDA regulation violates the university’s nondiscrimination policy.
“I remain steadfast in my belief that the FDA’s lifetime blood donor deferral affecting gay men violates our non-discrimination policy,” said SJSU President Don W. Kassing in a press release. “Our policy is much more than a regulation. It is an expression of values we all share, most notably our core belief that people must be treated as individuals, free of prejudice.“
Though UC Davis has yet to pass such a regulation at either the student government or administration level, there is tension regarding current practices.
“Nobody is against blood drives,” said ASUCD Senator Mo Torres, who spoke against discriminatory blood drives in his fall election campaign.
“[But] to uphold the UC Davis Principles of Community, we must ensure that organizations do not come onto our campus and discriminate against our students. To my knowledge, blood drives are the only events on our campus that directly tell the queer male students on our campus, along with any woman who has had sex with a MSM: ‘you’re not allowed here,‘” Torres said in an e-mail interview.
All blood donations are tested for HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis and the human T-lymphotropic virus. Even with testing, infected donations may be missed due to a “window period” between being infected and the test showing a positive result, according to a statement released by the National Blood Service.
“By banning men who have sex with men, regardless of the individual’s HIV status, the FDA greatly limits the amount of potential donors that can donate clean blood,” Torres said. “Not only that, but the FDA creates the illusion that the blood will be safer because of it.“
“However, under the current policy, a man who exclusively has sex with women, but is extremely promiscuous and engages in risky sex practices – without protection – is able to donate with no problem. How is that individual at any lesser risk for HIV than a man who exclusively has sex with men, but is in a monogamous relationship and always uses protection?” he said.
In response to such questions, BloodSource – a Northern Calif. blood bank that conducts most UC Davis on-campus drives – is working with the federal government as well as the state in order to look for funding to scientifically answer that question, said Leslie Botos, the vice president of public affairs at BloodSource.
Research is currently being conducted in the United Kingdom that is questioning whether or not a MSM is at a greater risk for such diseases. Results are expected this June, Botos said.
“If this deferral changes without science to guide it; [and] if the emotional voices are wrong and if indeed men who have had sex with men are at a greater risk for getting HIV and then passing it on if they were a donor – it would set back every bit of progress made by the gay community since 1985,” Botos said. “I don’t think anyone in that community would want that to happen.“
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