To Bleed Or Not To Bleed

3Gallon

Two days after I turned seventeen I visited our local American Red Cross to donate my first unit of blood.  I remember feeling pretty heroic that day knowing I was doing a great public service.  I was nervous but knew my rare blood would help someone in great need.  I stepped into the anonymous cubicle where the nurse proceeded to run protocol prior to my donation.

All went smoothly until I was completely caught off guard with the question, “Have you had intimate contact with another male, even once?”  Stunned and confused I quickly uttered “no.”  Why would it matter, I thought?  At seventeen I was completely unaware of any “gay blood ban.”  Not to mention I was newly out and not prepared for such a private question from a complete stranger.  I went on to donate that day, and for a few years thereafter.

During one particular donation visit the supervisor met me in the waiting room.  He asked if I would come into his office for a quick chat.  Running endless scenarios in my mind I nervously sat down.  Soon, however, my mind was at ease when the supervisor shared he had good news.  He proceeded tell me that upon completion of this visit I would receive my three gallon (24 donations) pin.  The pin came with a big thank you and congratulations.  What an indescribable feeling.  I was helping save the lives of countless people during their most life-threatening moments.  I was elated and remember having to look down at cloud nine the entire day.

I placed the pin on my dresser where it proudly displayed.  One night, while getting ready for bed, I looked at my pin.  The heroic feeling I usually felt however wasn’t there.  Instead a feeling of deceit and despair overcame me.  It was at that moment my entire blood donating journey would change.  It hit me like a ton of bricks that the very pin I proudly displayed was given to me based on years of lying.  I no longer felt proud but ashamed, and saddened.  The lying haunted me even prompting a dream that night that I was “found out” while trying to donate blood.

The next morning I called the National Red Cross hotline to ask a few anonymous questions.  The first question I asked was in regards to the tests and type of testing that were administered after each donation.  I do not recall the litany of medical tests and procedures she responded with (though they include; Chagas disease , Hepatitis B virus, Hepatitis C virus , Human Immunodeficiency Viruses, Types 1 and 2, Human T-Lymphotropic virus, Syphilis, West Nile virus just to name a few)  but she ensured me that every donation was thoroughly and rigorously tested with strict guidelines.  I asked if two people of the same gender were in a long-term monogamous relationship completely drug and disease free would they be banned from donating? Her response was astounding.  “No, a donation could still be made but if the answer regarding same-gender intimacy was answered yes the unit would be tagged and immediately destroyed.” That day I made a vow that I could no longer in good conscience lie.  That was the day I stopped donating.

Fast forward twenty years I am still in a long-term monogamous relationship – married in fact.  I am still young, healthy, fit, completely drug and disease free and yet still unable to donate to the blood shortage so profound here in America.

The following facts were taken directly from the “Facts and statistics” page of the American Red Cross;

  • 4.5 million Americans would die each year without life-saving blood transfusions.
  • More than 41,000 blood donations are needed every day in the United States.
  • Every three seconds someone needs blood.
  • One out of every 10 people entering a hospital needs blood.
  • Just one pint of donated blood can help save as many as three people’s lives.

 –  Fourteen tests, 11 of which are for infectious diseases, are performed on each unit of donated blood. All donated blood is tested for HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis and other infectious diseases.

  • There is no substitute for human blood.
  • More than 1.6 million people were diagnosed with cancer last year. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.
  • A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.
  • In the days following the September 11 attacks, a half a million people donated blood. Side note: if any of those donors were gay they would have had to lie to help during this nationwide devastation – how sad.

 If a dear family member were on their death bed and needed emergency blood to survive would it matter to you who the person loved while donating? If this disgraceful ban were lifted there could potentially be 1.8 million lives saved annually.  How many senseless deaths must occur due to this absurd and cruel ban?

Allow me a few eye-brow raising points regarding this needless ban

  • The ban was instituted in 1983 in the early days of the AIDS crisis, when HIV testing was still rudimentary. It has not been altered or updated since.
  • Gay people are banned for life from donating blood. Even with a clean bill of health gay men are considered more of a risk than straight ones who were treated for chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, venereal warts, genital herpes, or who pays for sex (including knowingly has sex with an HIV positive woman).   If any (or all of these) apply, a straight man only has to wait one year before donating blood.
  • The other blatant life-long ban is for Intravenous drug users. Basically gay persons are in the same group as druggies.
  • Lesbians can contract HIV sexually (exposure to vaginal or other body fluids, blood from menstruation etc.) however they are not disqualified from donating. In fact unlike men their orientation is not even questioned.
  • Gay people are allowed to donate organs. Yes you read that correctly. We are allowed to donate our organs, just not our blood.  Huh?!?!
  • The ban stigmatizes gay men. There has never been an emergency where anyone asked, “Is this gay blood?”
  • MANY countries have already learned this ban is not medically necessary and lifted their ban. Countries such as Italy, Chile, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Uruguay, Spain etc.  no longer exclude gay men.  Countless others; Australia, Brazil, Japan, Finland, Argentina, U.K. etc., defer one year from sexual contact.  Albeit it is still a work in progress, with some minor restrictions, Canada lifted their lifetime ban several years ago.
  • Current blood tests can detect even the slightest contamination of any kind. (This begs the question if ALL donations are tested then why not let anyone who wishes to donate do so)? The H in HIV stands for ‘Human’– not homosexual.

If you are as irritated over this as I am and think this senseless outdated banned must be lifted please send a quick note of support to the Office of the Associate Director for Policy @ ADPolicy@cdc.gov and also send it to friends and family to help end this egregious, discriminatory and senseless ban once and for all.  Thank you

*Update.  I just heard that the ban was in fact amended (gay men can donate if they have not had sex in a year). While this is a GREAT start it still precludes tens of thousands like myself who are married and monogamous. I shouldn’t have to be celibate for a year to save a life. We have a way to go, please sign and share.

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