Donate blood and fight homophobia

| Editorial Board

Tomorrow’s blood drive, and the “I Donated” stickers that will proliferate on students’ T-shirts across campus, mark an honorable occasion. Blood banks are as vital as they are under-resourced, and the University is right to give blood drives its full-throated support.

Moreover, the University’s contribution to the blood supply is exemplary. Through an innovative model of day-long, multi-site drives that demand cooperation between blood banks, our Community Service Office has vastly increased blood donations over the past three years. The result is that tens of thousands of lives have been saved.

But no blood drive in America is perfect, as any gay man can attest. Since 1983, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has prohibited blood donations from any man who has had sexual contact with a man one or more times since 1977. This policy is wrongful and discriminatory.

The policy was enacted at the height of the American AIDS panic. Outwardly, it was intended as a safeguard against contamination of the blood supply from HIV, which disproportionately affects men who have sex with men. In reality, however, it was and is an example of homophobia on an institutional level.

The FDA policy is prejudiced because it treats men who have sex with men as a high-risk group for HIV instead of people, both gay and straight, who have high-risk sex.

The discriminatory nature of this policy is most apparent in another FDA policy that permits men and women who have had sexual contact with an opposite-sex HIV-positive partner to donate blood one year after the contact. While heterosexuals who engage in high-risk sex get out of jail free, men who have sex with men, whether high-risk or not, face a lifetime ban.

The FDA should revise its ban in accordance with recommendations made in 2006 by the American Association of Blood Banks, America’s Blood Centers and the American Red Cross. These groups advise that men who have sex with men should be deferred from donating blood for the same amount of time as heterosexuals who are identified as at risk, and this approach is both sensible and just.

The University should continue its blood drives but take more action to end the FDA policy. In the short term, the Community Service Office should distribute notices to all blood donors explaining both the University’s commitment to blood donation and its condemnation of discrimination against gay people.

In the long term, University members should get tested for HIV in accordance with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) 2006 recommendation that all Americans take an HIV test. The best way to end AIDS-related discrimination is to end AIDS, and to achieve this, HIV testing is crucial.

Finally, University members should continue to donate blood and feel good about it, but donors should also be conscious that their ability to give is a privilege that is unjustly denied to others. Students who wish to express solidarity with their gay peers might consider donning equality buttons alongside their stickers professing “I Donated.”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.