Gay men and their allies are taking a stand Friday in the first ever national gay blood drive. Demonstrations across the country, including at the Puget Sound Blood Center, are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to change its ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
The current policy dates back to the 1980s when, activists say, people didn’t know much about HIV and AIDS. At the time, it was difficult to detect whether the virus was present in donated blood.
The American Medical Association voted in June to oppose the FDA ban.
“It’s about being a second-class citizen,” said Matthew Shrader, who was humiliated after being turned away from donating blood because he’s gay.
Shrader, 26, says the purpose is personal. His aunt almost died in a horrible car accident.
“If my aunt wanted my blood and we were a blood type match, we can’t even sign a form saying ‘take my blood’ to save her life,” he said.
Shrader organized an event last September to recruit eligible donors to give blood on his behalf.
“We want to be part of the general community just like everybody else,” he said.
Shrader and others across the country plan to fight the FDA ban by showing up to their local donation center and giving blood even though they aren’t eligible. They hope to collect all of the paperwork and send that to the FDA to make a social statement.
According to a 2010 study by the Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), 53,000 men who sleep with men would be eligible to donate blood if they were allowed. That equals 90,000 pints of blood.
“That’s even more blood to save even more lives,” said Grier Phillips, a straight female who will be volunteering at the demonstration. “It’s bizarre to me with equality in marriage and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) being lifted that we still have this ban on giving blood.”
The FDA’s website shows HIV infection rates are 60 percent higher with gay or bisexual men.
“Every person that sleeps with men is not HIV positive and our blood would be perfectly eligible,” said Shrader.
The Puget Sound Blood Center supports the demonstration and believes the FDA should modify its rules.