To allow bigotry to contribute to a public health crisis leaves the realm of hurtful and enters the realm of absurdity, but that is exactly what is happening in the United States today.
Around the country, the American Red Cross is calling for donors to step up to donate blood in the face of severe blood reserve shortages in almost every state. In the context of this reality, blood donation centers are encouraging anyone eligible under federal guidelines to step forward and donate. But that meas that if you have had a tattoo in the least year or have visited a country where malaria is present in the last year, you’ve gotta wait a little.
Oh, and if you’re a man and have had sexual contact with a man since 1977, you can never donate blood. Not once. Never.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking: “WHAT!? That can’t be right! That is blatant homophobic discrimination!” Well, while it may be blatant homophobic discrimination, it is also federal law.
What’s worse is that you don’t need to be actually gay. Because of the law, screeners have turned away folks like Aaron Pace, a Straight Indiana man who was turned away from a donation center for appearing gay.
Now maybe you’re thinking, “Well, isn’t this just some sort of antiquated crap that just needs to be done away with?” Well, while it is antiquated poo that needs to be disposed of, it was upheld by the Congressional Health and Human Services Committee last summer.
Those in Congress and around the country who support the ban on Gay men donating blood point to the fact that half of new HIV infections in 2005 were among Gay men, but they ignore the fact that the fastest growing rates of HIV are among young women, African American women, and Hispanic women. Would the federal government consider banning African American women from donating? No! That’s absurd. Such a policy would not even be considered, and if it were enacted, public outcry against the racism and sexism would be loud.
After all, blood banks are now required to screen all blood with advanced screening processes to ensure that it is safe for transmission to those who need it. Thus, there is no need for supposed “lifestyle questions” that blatantly discriminate against Gay men. So what explanation is there for discriminating?
It’s time to make our public outcry loud enough that those who uphold this policy hear it. Folks around the country have already started to act:
What can you do? Well, you can start by signing the Change.org petition to end the bad on Gay men donating blood, and you can spread the word, encouraging others to sign. Like the students at the University of Pennsylvania, you can pressure the institutions to which you’re connected to change their policies. You can write your Senators to pressure Health and Human Services to call for change as it undertakes a study on the subject.
It’s bad enough that the federal government refuses to extend workplace protections on the basis of sexual orientation in an act of passive discrimination, but the active discrimination to deny Gay men the ability donate blood must be stopped.
The question is, What are you going to do about it?