Let’s Out the Gay Blood Ban

In the United States today, “only 8% of Americans are donating blood frequently while 38% of the American population is eligible for donating blood,” as relayed by news-medical.net. According to bloodbanker.com, “every 2 seconds someone in the United States is in need of blood.” As reported on “February 9th, 2011,” by The American Red Cross, “over 750 blood drives nationwide” were canceled, “resulting in a shortfall of more than 28,000 blood donations since January 1.” And, according to The American Red Cross Blood Facts/Statistics, “More than 38,000 blood donations are needed every day.” So, you may be asking yourself, what do all of these facts have to do with me? These facts are targeted at you because you, like every other human being on this planet, have the potential to donate blood to save someone’s life, to help leverage the blood supply, or to help be one of the 38,000 blood donations needed every day in the United States. Oh, except if you’re gay.

When someone goes in to give blood, their examination begins with “a questionnaire …that asks 48 questions about current health status, medical history, blood donation history, sexual practices, drug use, and other behaviors. But risk factors are not uniformly applied. A heterosexual donor who has had sex with a knowingly HIV-positive partner 366 days ago would be eligible for donation. By contrast, a man who has had sex with another man, regardless of the frequency, safe sex practices involved, or duration since the episode, is denied for life.” This look at current blood donation processes, as supplied by GMHC.org, an AIDS awareness website, highlights the policy known as the Gay Blood Ban, a ban that defers gay men from donating blood. When I first became informed about the Gay Blood Ban, I didn’t know very much about it. When trying to research it, I hit several dead ends, out dated blood research processes, and overly scientific arguments that riddled the declarations of the ban rather than giving me more insight into its prefaces and arguments.

You’ve come to our blog, Got Controversy?, because you want to learn more about important social issues and how they affect the State of Colorado, where you live, and who you are as an individual. But now that you’re aware that I am here to educate you about the Gay Blood Ban, you are probably worried that I am going to tell you that I am right and, that if you don’t agree with my opinion, you are wrong. No, sorry, that’s not how it works here. As a student and an individual who has educated myself on an array of questions about the Gay Blood Ban, I want to educate you on these five main topics concerning the Ban: The History, The Facts, The Effects, The Face, and You. From these five main topics, you are going to be given all the information you need to make your own opinion. You are going to be informed about what the Ban is, what the facts are about current blood donation policies and technology, as well as other world powers’ opinions on this issue, what the effects this Ban has on our health care system, who the Ban personally affects, and what you can do to help. This social issue is one of importance to yourself and your community, and, because of its importance, the Gay Blood Ban needs to end, not only because of its out datedness in terms of technology and our modern world, but also because of the negative effects it has on all individuals, even those not barred from donation, and because of its profound effects upon the United States health care system, your community, and you.

THE HISTORY: WHAT IS THE GAY BLOOD BAN?

 You may be asking yourself “what is the Gay Blood Ban?” As cited by GMHC.org, which is fore-mentioned above, according to their report, “A Drive for Change: Reforming U.S. Blood Donation Policies,” The Food and Drug administration (FDA) has, since 1985, enforced a policy in which any man who has had sex with another man, even once since 1977, is permanently “deferred” from donating blood, regardless of the man’s actually HIV status.” This report, last updated in 2010, states that under legal policy, gay men may not donate blood, even if their sexual practices and lifestyles choices are not those which could contract blood borne diseases such as HIV. This is a United States, country-wide, FDA policy, but why you may ask? When and how did this ban come about? When the ban was placed in 1985, the United States was in the midst of a crisis involving the rapid spread of HIV, which was especially prevalent in gay men and, thus, their blood. This crisis harshly affected many groups, one of the main ones being the hemophiliacs, or individuals diagnosed with a blood disorder in which the blood takes a long time to clot, sometimes allowing the victim to bleed to death. This “fear” has kept its grip on the FDA’s continuation of the ban, banning gay men for life from donating blood.

THE FACTS: HOW IS THE GAY BLOOD BAN UPHELD IN 2011?

 In our modern world, technology is used to do almost everything. This includes its extensive use in our current health care system. Blood donation falls within this system. As relayed on June 26, 2010, in a NPR broadcast labeled, “FDA Ban on Blood Donated by Gay Men Upheld,” which you can listen to by clicking on the following link: Gay Blood Ban NPR Radio Interview, Professor Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania claimed, “there’s a fancy name, nucleic acid testing, NAT testing, that’s used all over the blood supply today…the first computer-created life form… (that understands) what the component instructions are of different viruses and (is) able to identify them.” Today, there are several advanced technological testing agencies used to make sure blood going into the blood supply is safe and ready to be given to patients in need. CNN: The Gay Blood Ban adds that modern “blood donations go through HIV antigen screening (to detect antibodies produced by the body in response to the virus),” showing that modern technology can easily detect and prevent the spread of HIV and other blood borne illnesses.

“There is a “window period” of about two weeks after an individual becomes infected with HIV when these tests cannot detect the virus,” CNN: The Gay Blood Ban also reports, making it appear that HIV and other blood borne illnesses can go undetached into the blood supply. But, this window period is very small, and as supplied by GMHC.org, the probability of receiving a “unit of HIV infected blood” is “one in 1.5 million.” Since 1977, when gay men were initially deferred from donating blood, technology has reached new advances beyond that which our health care system ever expected. Yet, in 2011, this Ban is still upheld. Our technology is far beyond that of the 1970s. The chances of having another rapid outbreak of HIV/AIDS in the United States is slim to none.

According to The Lesbian and Gay Foundation, as reported on March 16, 2011, the UK government “confirmed it will be making an announcement on the gay blood ban.” This announcement was brought on by “a statement from the Conservative LGBT group, LGBTory,” as relayed by Andrew Stephenson, as Stephenson had recently “raised the question during a short debate on the National Blood Service.” This article, as featured on the foundation’s website, expands that Stephenson, in the House of Commons, “focused on the fact that the Blood Service is in need of new donors and yet a large section of society is not allowed by law to give blood.”

The last time the U.S. government looked into the Gay Blood Ban, and its repeal, was 2010, and, as relayed in the NPR interview with Arthur Caplin, Gay Blood Ban NPR Radio Interview, “the government public health committee concluded the policy was, quote, “suboptimal,” but voted to keep it in effect anyway.” Even our government is in agreement that the policy is outdated in some way or form, and, like the UK, our blood supply is struggling because a large section of society is not allowed to donate. Currently, as relayed above by news-medical.net, “8% of our population is donating blood currently while 38% is eligible.” This means 30% of the eligible population isn’t donating any blood at all. This also means that over 50% of the population isn’t even legally eligible to give blood. A group that makes up a part of this population is gay men.

THE EFFECTS: WHAT TOLL DOES THE GAY BLOOD BAN TAKE?

 Currently, “the Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers and the AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks) have – since 2006 – supported changing the policy to a one-year deferral, a position reiterated on June 11, 2010” as relayed by metroweekly.com, a policy change that has not yet gone into effect. As stated by the The American Red Cross  on February 9th, 2011, stated again as one of the facts in the introductory paragraph, “communities across the country have been hit by another round of severe winter storms. The American Red Cross has been forced to cancel over 750 blood drives nationwide, resulting in a shortfall of more than 28,000 blood donations since January 1.” You may see these effects of our shortage of blood on your own campuses, in your communities and in your cities. Such blood donation centers as Bonfils travel, with blood donation equipment in tow, to college campus asking students to donate. Several cities have given adequate permits and allowances to blood donation centers wishing to set up permanent office sites where communities can come to actively donate. And, several cities have even set up blood drive contests, making healthy competition a way to motivate individuals to donate. In the following video, a pro sports team is used to highlight the avid publicity currently being given to blood donation because of the present day shortage:New York Mets Blood Drive! I Donated! The effects are visible to all of us, every day, in places in our communites and lives.

THE FACE: WHO DOES THE GAY BLOOD BAN AFFECT?

 The obvious and most affected group involved in the Gay Blood Ban are the gays. “When Mark Shields started his job at the American Red Cross in Madison, Wisconsin, he rolled up his sleeve to give blood. It made sense. Part of his job was encouraging the public to donate and supporting the organization’s lifesaving mission. Before he could give, he was told that his blood could never be accepted. Because he’s gay. “I was 23 at the time. I was just coming out,” he said. “I was trying to be part of our organization’s mission and feeling like I can’t do this. … I certainly felt put on the spot. It was a bad feeling for a lot of reasons.”” Mark’s true story, as relayed by CNN: The Gay Blood Ban, mimics that of thousands of other gay and bisexual men. For a man, like Mark Shields, to be turned away because of his sexual orientation, even if he could be completely clean, is wrong. But it’s not just Mark and other gays who are affected by this ban.

Those in need of surgery, who have cancer, who have blood diseases, or are in need of blood transfusion health care are all affected by this ban. As highlighted above in the introductory paragraph, people across the country, every day, are in need of blood. Someone in a car crash could need a blood transfusion as soon as possible in order to live, and that “someone” could be your mom, your dad, your brother, your girlfriend, or your roommate. This “someone” could even be you. This ban, this shortage of blood, and this current state of blood in our health care system affects all of us. It affects us because life is unexpected and, by even not being gay, you can be affected by the Gay Blood Ban.

YOU: WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO WITH THE GAY BLOOD BAN?

 So what does this all mean to you as a student, as a parent, as a friend, as a resident, or as an individual? The Gay Blood Ban needs to be repealed because of its effects on, not just the gay community, but on the community you live in. The facts all point out that the ban is outdated. With our current technology’s ability to detect harmful blood borne pathogens, and other world powers repealing the ban because of the increased necessity for blood, there is no reason why we, in the United States, shouldn’t do the same. But what can you do in your community to help? Donation of blood is our greatest weapon, currently, against the Gay Blood Ban. Because of the shortage of blood, the greatest way heterosexuals can help is to leverage the blood supply and decrease the pressure being put on the United States health care system. Visit another of my pages labeled “Resources On How To Help” or click this link: Resources On How To Help: The Gay Blood Ban  to get more information on donation processes as well as locations where you can donate.

Even if you don’t agree with the repeal of the Gay Blood Ban, its effects affect us all in some way. Every human being has and needs blood. The history of the Gay Blood Ban is something important to remember but to reconsider in our more modern era. The facts of the Ban are presented to you and highlight the technological ability of the United States, as a world power, to repeal or amend the ban in some way so more individuals can donate. The effects of the Ban affect us all, and to ignore them is to not progress to a better future, but to digress into an obsolete model of the past. The face of the Ban is not just one seen and representative of sexual orientation but also one of those you come into contact with each day. And you have the power to help, to leverage, and to change what this Ban has placed into law. Let’s out the Gay Blood Ban, because blood is life. Let any person who has clean blood donate and help with our current blood shortage.

Please feel free to leave any comments, concerns, or questions for me. I would love to discuss the Gay Blood Ban, my sources used, and my continuing research on this topic with any who have taken an interest or want to learn more about taking action.

For information on all sources used, visit: Annotated Bibliography: Let’s Out The Gay Blood Ban

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