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Decades After the AIDS Crisis and Queer Men Still Can't Easily Give Blood

A federal policy forces gay and bisexual men to abstain from sex for a year to donate blood.
Photos by Harold Julian, courtesy of GMHC

This time last year the LGBTQ community was in mourning. The Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida left 49 innocent people dead simply because of who they chose to love. Even worse, gay and bisexual men were unable to donate blood to victims, which could have saved lives, because of an FDA policy that bans men who have sex with men from easily giving blood.

In 1992, at the height of the AIDS crisis, a federal rule was put into place by the FDA that implemented a lifetime ban on men who had any sexual contact other men since 1977. Although the full ban was lifted in 2015, a new oppressive rule hast taken its place. All gay and bisexual men must be abstinent for one year before being allowed to give blood (places like the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, and Japan also use the one-year ban), which is a policy as archaic as it is homophobic.


Incidents like the Pulse nightclub tragedy brought further attention to this injustice, and according to the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) the US is estimated to lose out on 615,000 pints of blood per year because of it. In July 2016, following the shooting, the FDA said that it would reevaluate the ban on blood donation, but the policy remains unchanged.

That's where "Blood Portraits" come in. It's not the latest Anne Rice novel, it's a new campaign by the GMHC and Blood Equality. The photos were taken at the High Line in New York City and highlight how the blood of sexual and gender minorities continues to be stigmatized. The campaign features portraits of Deputy Commissioner for NYC Health Department Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, High Line architect Charles Renfro and nearly 100 more who believe that blood discrimination is wrong.

"The rejection of men who have sex with men as donors stems from a longstanding fear and dehumanization of the LGBTQ community," GMHC CEO Kelsey Louie said in a statement to VICE Impact. "Donation policies should be based on testing and scientific risk assessments, rather than the stigmas surrounding an individual's sexual orientation."

The images play off of Jordan Eagles' Blood Mirror sculpture, wherein nine gay, bisexual and transgender men, including GMHC's very own Kelsey Louie, donated their blood to protest the FDA ban.

Check out the portraits below and make one of your own using the "Blood Selfies" tool on the Blood Equality website.