A gay man attempting to donate blood in Los Angeles.
Last Friday, I tried to donate blood.
After taking a test to prove that I'm HIV negative (whoop!) I went to Kaiser Permanente Blood Donor Center in Hollywood, Los Angeles, and told the receptionist that I was there to donate.
She gave me some forms to fill out and a free pen (whoop!) to fill them out with.
Things were going great until:
"Male donors: [have you] had sexual contact with another male even once?" I marked yes, and handed my form back to the receptionist.
I was taken to a side room by a nurse who went over my form with me. "Unfortunately, since you have had sexual contact with another male, that's a deferral," she said.
An activist en route to donate blood.
The reason I was trying to donate blood (despite having put my penis inside other men on multiple occasions) was as a part of the first-ever national gay blood drive, an event organised by documentarian Ryan James Yezak in an attempt to draw attention to what many see as an unfair rule.
Since the 80s, men who have had sexual contact with other men (even if it was just one time) have been banned from donating blood in the US by the FDA as a response to fears that allowing gay/bisexual/DTF men to share their blood would give everyone HIV.
In the time since the ban was introduced, testing for HIV has become a lot cheaper, faster, easier, and more accurate, and a bunch of big medical organisations like the American Red Cross and the American Medical Association have called for the ban to be overturned. AMA board member Dr. William Kobler told CNN that the ban was "discriminatory and not based on "sound science."
Ryan, who's making a movie about discrimination based on sexual orientation, agrees. "It's a law that supports discrimination, and that's crazy," he told me. "If I were the FDA, and I saw a kid had commited suicide or someone had been kicked out of their home, I would feel partly responsible for that, because there's a ban in place that says all gay and homosexual men are diseased, and that damages the gay community."
According to the Red Cross, someone needs a blood transfusion in the US every two seconds. Not surprisingly, there are frequent blood shortages – even so, due to the ban on men who have had same-sex experiences and other groups (including former drug users and people who have spent prolonged amounts of time in Europe), only 38 percent of the population is eligible to donate.
A rapid HIV testing van in Los Angeles.
Ryan and the other organizers of the National Gay Blood Drive arranged for mobile HIV testing units to be stationed at over 50 blood donation centers around the country, and asked that all eligible gay and bisexual men get tested, confirm that they're HIV negative, then attempt to donate blood.
As we all knew, any gay man who attempted to do this would be turned away, but every time someone attempts to give blood and is rejected, this information is passed on to the FDA, along with the reason for the rejection. Ryan is hoping that if this happens enough times, the FDA will realise how much free, good blood they're missing out on, and kill their senseless rule.
Between 20 and 30 people attempted to donate at the Los Angeles event according to Ryan, but he didn't have figures for the rest of the country. He did say, however, that he was "happy with the turnout." He added that even if you missed the event, you can still attempt to donate at your local blood donation center. He sees this type of donation-as-protest as a "rare chance to fight discrimination and help reform medical policy at the same time."
Read more about Ryan's documentary, titled Second Class Citizens, here.
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