A blood drive at an Olympia church on Thursday was organized to draw attention to a nearly three-decade-old government policy banning donations from gay men.
Twenty-five people showed up at the First Christian Church to give on behalf of Matthew Shrader, a gay man who believes the ban is outdated and unnecessary.
"When my blood is perfectly safe,” said Shrader. “And can save a life.”
The FDA policy specifically prohibiting gay men from giving blood dates back to 1983, citing their increased risk for HIV and other infections.
"It perpetuates that HIV aids is a gay disease, clearly, we've come a long way from that 1980s knowledge,” said Shrader.
He said he believes the FDA is discriminating based on gender and sexual orientation, instead of focusing on behavior. He organized the blood drive to help get that message out.
"That's discrimination,” said Amy Carrithers, a fellow student from the community college Shrader attends. “That's why I'm here to help donate for my friend who can't.”
"It needs to be looked into and updated because it is an old law things have changed,” said Shrader’s former co-worker, Linda Johnson, who is also a nurse.
But Johnson said she also believes in stringent screening of each donated blood sample.
The FDA maintains the policy not only protects the integrity of the blood supply, but also the public’s confidence in the process. But the FDA admits the rule is under review.
The Puget Sound Blood Center is bound by FDA rules, but agrees the ban against donations from gay men is antiquated, especially with advancements in HIV testing and the fact that every blood sample is screened for HIV.
"This criteria does not match with science,” said Tori Fairhurst, donor representative with the Puget Sound Blood Center. “So it's a big deal because we're applying the rules differently to different people.”
More than half of the people who came on Thursday said they were first time donors.
"It's very touching, that a lot of these people have not donated blood in a very long time or have never donated blood in their life and they're here to stand in solidarity with me,” said Shrader.
The collection goal each day in Western Washington is 900 donors.