Friday marked the second annual National Gay Blood Drive to protest an US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with other men.
In over 60 blood donation sites across the US, gay and bisexual men who cannot donate showed up with their heterosexual or lesbian friends and family members, who are eligible donors, to give on their behalf.
Gay and bisexual men participating in the drive are photographed with their ‘donor-allies’ and asked to write a message to the FDA, while the ‘donor-allies’ can fill out a donor nametag with the name of the individual whose place they took.
According to the FDA’s website, the ban was instituted in 1983 because of the history between men who have had sex with other men and HIV.
In the US and in the majority of countries around the world that follow guidelines set by the FDA, a man who has had sex with another man once in his entire life since 1977 is banned for life from donating blood.
The campaign was organized by filmmaker and activist from Los Angeles Ryan James Yezak who found himself having to explain to his boss and colleagues at a former job why he couldn’t join the office blood drive for tornado victims.
‘While I was healthy as could be, I could not donate due to the fact that I was gay. I had to explain the situation to everyone in my department. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was being treated differently solely on the basis of my sexual orientation – it felt alienating, it felt wrong, but above all – it felt unnecessary,’ Yezak wrote in a column for the Human Rights Campaign.
Last year, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to end the ban, recognizing the new techniques available to detect HIV in donated blood.
‘The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,’ Time quoted Dr William Kobler, AMA board member, as saying in a statement.
‘This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.’
However the report also noted, ‘One issue involves when potential donors would get tested for HIV; although testing has now become relatively simple (there are even at-home tests), HIV-positive people may still test negative if their blood is drawn in the first 11 days after infection.’
Some countries have been reviewing similar policies on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
In May this year, South Africa struck the question of male-to-male sex from its donor questionnaire and replaced it with a question designed to assess sexual behavior, as opposed to orientation.
According to The Daily Beast, anyone who has had sexual contact with a new partner in the last six months is subject to a deferral period of a further six months before being able to donate – regardless of gender or sexual orientation.