For all the progress made on behalf of gay rights over the past 20 years, one of the most prosaic, most inherently homophobic policies remains in place: the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men. It’s ridiculous, yes, and finally the government’s taking steps to set things straight. Perhaps we can help them along by raising our voices.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability starts a two-day meeting today to reconsider the FDA’s ban on lavender plasma, which has been in place since 1985, when we didn’t know so much about HIV, and the disease was still thought of as a gay cancer. Times have changed, obviously, and a number of LGBT sites and people – AMERICABlog, Bilerico Project, Blabbeando, Change.org, DailyKos, David Badash, Firedoglake-The Seminal, Good As You, Joe Mirabella, LGBTPOV, Mike Signorile, OpenLeft and Rod 2.0. – are taking action to give the government some good-hearted needling. And you can, too.
Below I’ve included some talking points and a form letter you can send along to the committee’s head honcho, Dr. Jerry Holmberg, asking him to push hard for new, inclusive blood rules. Now, before you march blindly into this blood boycott, consider the outlandish aspects of this ban, and why it should be lifted.
First and foremost, technology has come a long way since 1985, and medical professionals have more means through which to give blood the all clear. Second, HIV isn’t just a gay disease, so gay men who have sex with men aren’t necessarily infected, nor do we all have willy-nilly. Well, we may, but the smart ones practice safer sex, while some straight people may not: that means people at risk, the bare backing straights, aren’t flagged as suspect, while safer gays are – smells like blatant, backward discrimination.
The most insulting aspect of this ban, to me, is that it perpetuates not only the image of promiscuous gay men taking lives into their own hands; it’s that our blood is made inherently dirty. Men who have sex with men aren’t of the same species; we’re monsters who bleed death.
The government, here in 2010, should act fast to lift this ban: not just because it’s discriminatory, but hospitals are in desperate need of blood donations, yet millions of untapped plasma are being ignored. By lifting this ban, the government would both bring gays further into the federal fold, and help replenish a dwindling blood supply that could save countless American lives. And it seems to me those lives are in the government’s best interest: who knows, a future President may get a transfusion from a gay donor. Wouldn’t that be keen?
Here’s the letter, friends: you can email it directly to Dr. Holmberg: firstname.lastname@example.org. Oh, I’ve also included some talking points you can reference in your letter. But I’m sure you’ll all be creative. Remember to be polite.
POSSIBLE TALKING POINTS:
Newer tests have shortened the window period in which HIV is undetectable to between 9 and 11 days. A permanent, lifetime ban is outdated and no longer makes sense.
The U.S. blood supply is frequently at critically low levels. Less than 5% of all eligible donors give, while donation recipients include mothers delivering babies, trauma victims, cancer patients, transplant patients and others. The respected Williams Institute estimates that lifting the ban would result in an estimated 130,150 additional donors who are likely to donate 219,000 additional pints of blood each year, while shortening deferral to one year would result in 53,269 additional men who are likely to donate 89,716 pints each year.
The ban is a form of discrimination by unfairly targeting men who have sex with men, or effectively the gay and bisexual community. A permanent, blanket ban is instituted on any male who has had sex with another male even once since 1977 and without regard for partner’s HIV status nor for frequency, safe sex practices, or duration since. Yet if one has sex with an opposite-sex partner who is knowingly HIV-positive, he or she can give again in a year. This is discrimination and it is wrong.
Other countries like Australia, Japan, Sweden and Russia have either revised or completely lifted the deferral period, while Italy, Spain and France screen donors based on risk rather than a blanket ban on a community.
The American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, American Association of Blood Banks, American Medical Association, and a coalition of nearly fifty other organizations all support a revision of the ban.
Jerry A. Holmberg, PhD
Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability
Office of Public Health and Science
Department of Health and Human Services
1101 Wooton Parkway, Suite 250
Rockville, MD 20852
June 10, 2010
Dear Dr. Holmberg,
I am pleased that the Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability (ACBSA) is planning to review the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decades-long ban on blood donation by any man who has had sex with another man since 1977. I strongly urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review its policy prohibiting gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood.
The FDA’s current blood donor eligibility policies are largely inconsistent, imposing significantly less restrictive deferrals to heterosexual men and women who engage in high-risk sexual behavior, yet banning gay and bisexual men who are HIV-negative, consistently practice safe sex, or are in monogamous, long-term relationships. This policy reinforces inaccurate stereotypes about gay men and HIV, and results in a significant loss of healthy blood donors.
The advent of new HIV testing technologies, which can detect HIV directly and has a window period of only 9-11 days after infection, has provided scientific and technological reasons to reconsider the policy. In the face of chronic blood shortages in the nation’s blood supply, the unnecessary exclusion of large numbers of HIV-negative blood donors may harm patients in need of blood transfusions.
I join a growing consensus of voices who have called for reform of the FDA’s donor eligibility policy. Many public health experts, the American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks, America’s Blood Centers, and others have supported reforming the policy. Additionally, 18 U.S. Senators, as well as U.S. Representatives, have recently sent letters to the FDA calling for the long-standing policy’s review and modification.
It is both timely and necessary that an exhaustive review of alternative policies is conducted. I encourage Health and Human Services (HHS) and the FDA to act quickly to address our mutual concern for expanding the blood donor pool and ensuring the safety and adequacy of our nation’s blood supply.