Blood Drive Bans Sexually Active Gay Men from Donating

Four times a year, blood banks set up for donations in Wilder. Although posters around campus feature smiling cartoons saying, “survival is in your blood,” men who have had sex with other men are disallowed from donating their blood.
The Red Cross placed a poster outside the door of Wilder Main this week that read, “You may not donate blood if you’re a man who’s had sex with another man after 1977.”
LGBT Community coordinator Tori Mcreynolds said, “I think the rule is outdated and given the fact that HIV is rising alarmingly amongst women, excluding gay men just doesn’t make sense.”
In 1985 the policy responded to the dangers in blood-based medications, like those in need of transfusions. At this point, some hemophiliacs had contracted AIDS from their medication, pooled from 10,000 donors per vial. Mary Beth Driscoll, Red Cross team supervisor for Lorain County said, “Because of the pooling, it was hard to identify HIV positive donors. As a result, the FDA stepped in and decided we needed to standardize rules and procedures in order to prevent further transmission of blood-born pathogens. Initially, the highest concentration of AIDS was found in the gay community.”
Today, after advances in disease testing, the Red Cross does not fear HIV positive blood mixing into their blood bank. However, the rule from the mid-eighties still stands. Karen Kelly, Red Cross Manager for communications and marketing said, “At the last FDA meeting [in Sept. 2000], the FDA decided to hold that as a standard. And one of the reasons was that statistically we could not prove that there would be completely risk-free blood.”
The FDC labels the activity of a man having sex with another man “high-risk behavior.” Other high risk behavior that automatically excludes a would-be donor includes use of ‘street drugs’ intravenously, recent tattooing and non-sterile body-piercing. 
When men admit to having had sex with other men on the application, they are indefinitely deferred by the Red Cross. Other deferments require a waiting period or testing procedure until deferred status is dropped, but for these men, deferment will not end until the FDA changes their policy.
Some argue that with new tests, the ban and the indefinite deferment are discriminatory. The Columbia Health Education Program says, “Since tests are now in place that can detect HIV just 20 days after infection, and all blood is screened for HIV, some officials support an easing of the donation ban, and regard the continued use of the 1985 policy as an issue of discrimination. For instance, a person who has high-risk heterosexual sex is only require to wait one year after the possible exposure to donate blood. Gay rights activists point to the arbitrary time limits as discriminatory because they are based on sexual orientation and not sexual behavior.”

The Center for Disease Control outlined a worst case scenario after dropping the ban. They estimated that of the six million pints the Red Cross tests in a year, 1,200 would test HIV-positive. 
Jim Tinker, Communications and Marketing officer for the National Red Cross said, “We’re basing this on the best information available form the CDC. They suggest that approximately. 60,000 previously deferred blood donors would probably donate his blood annually. [The number of HIV-positive donations is ] based on their estimate of a prevalence rate two percent of HIV in this community, men currently having sex with other men.

The Red Cross reported excellent turnout for their blood-drive, with 86 people on their first day, including 16 deferments. 
However, Kharry Polk, OC ’00, expressed concerned about the lack in turnout for people questioning or even acknowledging the ban. “Whether you feel one way or another about the policy, it’s sad that last semester, when this blood drive happened, there was absolutely no discussion. In old-school Oberlin, you would’ve seen kids splattering red paint on Wilder steps, and people with t-shirts that say “I’m gay” trying to give blood. That kind of activism is gone. There are some causes bigger than our own personal wants and desires that people don’t seem to fight for anymore.”


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