The darker side of the Gift of Life
With the Gift of Life Marathon movement in full swing, I can’t help but wonder why nobody is speaking out about eligibility guidelines for giving blood.
I’m beyond thrilled by the community motivation to break the national record and save thousands of lives. But I’m disappointed that no one is shedding light on the homophobic ban on blood donations, because the reality is that in 2013 — more than 30 years after the AIDS scare of the 1980s — giving the Gift of Life is still a heterosexual privilege.
Not everyone knows this, but because of a regulation from the Food and Drug Administration, no man who has had sex with another man since 1977 can donate blood at any point in his lifetime. No waiting period, no excuses, no exceptions. The regulation came about during the AIDS scare in the 1980s — back when people knew much less about HIV, had much less technology to screen blood for it, and the general public thought was that AIDS was a disease for gay people and African-Americans. Public mentality has changed, but it hasn’t changed enough.
In 2006, the American Red Cross, along with two medical groups, made a joint recommendation that the Food and Drug Administration reverse this lifetime ban for gay and bisexual men, calling the rule “medically and scientifically unwarranted.” The groups pointed out inconsistencies with other high-risk social groups — and told them they were misinterpreting their statistics. The Red Cross was right, but the FDA didn’t buckle.
Fast forward to 2013. The upcoming Gift of Life Marathon blood drive is sponsored by the American Red Cross — which is forced to follow FDA regulations, whether they like it or not. Fast forward to the rampant radio ads and newsletters asking people to donate blood. Fast forward to the 17-year-old gay kids who aren’t out yet hearing those ads and wondering how they can tell their friends why they aren’t joining the cause.
Fast forward to Dec. 17. You’re sitting in a lawn chair with a needle in you. Feeling like a true community servant, you look around to see who else joined you. But there are no gay men. There are no bisexual men. There are no men with non-traditional sexual histories.
This isn’t right.
It’s truly remarkable how the Rutland area can come together to do community service, but with a large community event like this, we also need to make a large commitment to standing up against homophobic regulations.
So here’s what I’m asking: If you are fortunate enough to be eligible to donate blood, be an ally to men who have sex with men. Write to the Food and Drug Administration, and tell them to end their illogical, homophobic regulation against men who have sex with men. Tell them that their all-out ban does nothing more than alienate gay and bisexual men from the rest of our community, and that’s not OK with Rutland County.
Tell them it’s 2013, and it’s time to adhere to modern medicine. Tell them we’re trying to set a record here, and they need to get their acts together.
We can say we were the first to implement a form of marriage equality, and we can point out that we give spousal benefits to same-sex partners. We can shatter this blood drive record in the faces of the entire country, and we save more lives than any region across the nation. But if we’re not willing to speak out against medically unsound homophobia, we can’t really be heroes.
Erin Mansfield is a Rutland City resident.