When I walked into the Congregational Church this Tuesday, I inadvertently advertised my virginity. For me, sitting in a line to donate blood is as good as having a giant “V” stitched on my shirt. I am gay, a “lifestyle choice” that will, as soon as that “V” no longer applies, forever ban me from donating blood. The Red Cross perpetually contacts me by phone, e-mail and mail to donate blood and each time, I am somewhat tempted to ask if they want gay blood. The current answer, after my negative response to the infamous question, “Are you a male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977?” would probably be an enthusiastic “Yes.” After all, blood donations are currently at a 15-year low.
After I commit the “lifestyle choice” of gay sex – I use this term as “Lifestyle and Life Events” is the category under which this ban is explained on the Red Cross’s website – my blood will become so inconceivably unusable that it will require a lifetime ban. The ban on “gay blood” originated in the panic of the AIDS epidemic among gay men and was instituted in 1977. At that time, blood tests for HIV and AIDS were not as heavily incorporated as they are today. Today, every single blood donation received by the Red Cross is screened for HIV as well as hepatitis and multiple other STIs. Then why are gay men still targeted in this manner? Granted, according to the CDC, in 2009, 51 percent of HIV cases in the United States were men who have sex with other men. As men who have sex with men (gay not being an all-encompassing term) only make up a small percentage of the U.S. population, it is immediately apparent that they make up an inordinately disproportional amount of HIV cases. Other minority groups and socioeconomically classes also represent disproportionally large amounts of HIV cases. However, a similar ban would be unthinkable and seen as the blatant racial profiling and discrimination that it is.
This continued ban, created in the hysteria of a bygone era, perpetuates institutionalized homophobia. When I mentioned potentially not being able to give blood to a few of my entrymates, some were confused. They were completely unaware of the current ban on gay men. It illustrates how easy it is to overlook anti-LGBTQ discrimination or against any group that does not affect you specifically. What is so interesting about this specific case is how to react to this ban. The common techniques of showing disapproval of a policy, boycotts, picketing and asking Williams not to support an organization, do not easily apply for two main reasons. Firstly, the point of the blood drive blatantly transcends any complaint I could have. What is most important is not my feeling of exclusion, but to attain the most amount of safe blood Williams and the country can provide. As my point is to maximize donations for the Red Cross, I would not participate in any actions that might be harmful to the organization. Secondly, on their website, the Red Cross suggests their disapproval of this rule. They wash their hands of this discrimination and pin it instead on the FDA, which refuses to change its requirements. So what then, is there to be done? My only idea, as incomplete as it is, is for men who have sex with men to go to blood drives, to wait for an hour in line, to show that they are willing, able and healthy enough to give blood and to be turned away for being gay.
As of now, gay blood, even if previously tested negative for HIV and other STIs, even though it will be repeatedly screened for those diseases, still has something, as implied by the FDA, that disqualifies it from being used to save lives. Some essence of gayness makes it unusable. Given the choice between not having the blood for a transfusion and receiving tested, HIV-negative blood that happens to be from a gay male donor, most people in that desperate situation would choose life.
This is 2013. The safety of the blood supply, the overall most important aspect of this conversation, would in no way be compromised by allowing all males to willingly donate blood. The LGBTQ rights movement is slowly and painfully chipping away at the laws and culture that have infringed on our lives for hundreds of years. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is gone, the Defense of Marriage Act is being challenged, the Supreme Court is reviewing Proposition 8 and Boy Scouts of America, the standard bearers for “Christian morality,” are considering changing their stance. And yet, even when blood donations are desperately needed to save lives, healthy gay men cannot donate blood. For that matter, many other healthy people are rejected; I was rejected for other reasons both times I tried to donate blood at the College. Regardless, the next time you see you me giving blood, either this archaic rule has been overturned or my virginity is still 100 percent intact.
Joshua Morrison ’16 is from Chapel Hill, N.C. He lives in Mission.