During Ithaca College’s blood drive Nov. 28, IC Red Cross Club sponsored #DonateinProtest, an event to protest the Food and Drug Administration’s policies that prohibit men who have sex with men from donating blood. Students were encouraged to write postcards to the FDA to express their disapproval of the policy.
Under FDA laws, men who have had sex with other men are deferred from donating blood for 12 months since their last sexual encounter with another man. Though the policy is more lenient than the FDA’s previous indefinite ban on men who have sex with men donating blood, it is still a backward policy.
HIV and AIDS are not as endemic as they were during the initial outbreak among the LGBTQ community in the 80s and 90s. Yes, the health effects are still detrimental and should not be brushed aside.
But safe sex education has exploded since the initial HIV outbreak. Drugs, like pre-exposure prophylaxis and post-exposure prophylaxis, have nearly eliminated the odds of contracting the virus. Medical advancements and further education, on top of cultural shifts, have made both avoiding infection and living with HIV much easier.
This makes the stance that the FDA has taken for so long seem archaic. The FDA screens potential blood donors for their
high-risk behaviors. Though population studies have shown that men who have sex with men have higher risks of HIV and hepatitis, testing for diseases at blood drives has improved. Not only that, but blood is tested again once it is received by medical facilities. And considering that the Red Cross is currently facing a critical shortage of blood across the country, it seems foolish to keep the ban in place.
The current stance that the FDA has on blood donations from men who have sex with men perpetuates the stigma that gay, bisexual and queer men are inherently dirty or unhealthy. It implies that queer men do not practice safe sex habits or monogamy.
Students must continue to make their voices heard. Though postcard writing is a good start, there must be continual efforts to have this changed. Continued letter-writing campaigns, phone calls made to the FDA and other similar efforts are necessary.