Guest column by Edward Scott | A call to end the ban on MSM blood donation

· April 17, 2014, 6:50 pm   ·  Updated April 18, 2014, 1:55 am

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T he first time I was given the opportunity to donate my O-positive blood was at a high school blood drive hosted by an organization for students interested in the health professions. I went to fill out the form. Then, the technician came to me and gave me the policies regarding donation. While reading, I hit the question asking if I had ever had sex with a man since 1977.

My first thought: “Why are they asking?”

As I continued to read, I realized that the protected sexual experience I had with my boyfriend — my first — disqualified me from saving a life.

Although the thought of lying crossed my mind, in that instance, I chose to leave. As I grew older and entered my college years, I ignored the conversation I had with myself about lying being wrong, and I rationalized giving my blood with statements like “How would they know?” or “Wouldn’t they rather me save a life?” The truth is that they would rather I not.

Since 1983, if a person is a man who has had sex with another man since 1977, then he is ineligible to donate blood per FDA guidelines. His name is put under what is called “lifetime deferral,” which is just another phrase for banned forever.

Originally, the policy’s intent was to limit the potential for HIV-infected blood to be given to a blood transfusion recipient. It was written during the earlier stages of HIV research, back when the nation still had a rudimentary understanding of HIV. The fear-driven media propagated a supposedly inherent connection between the queer community and HIV, and there was little sex education in all communities.

I like to think of myself as an honest person, but the truth is that every time I go to a blood drive and donate, I lie. Some might call it a little white lie, but it still is a lie.

Heterosexual privilege eliminates the ultimatum: Tell a lie and save a life, or tell the truth and be banned for life.

Since 1983, straight people have had the privilege of not needing to have an internal conversation about whether their blood is worthy. They will not have the experience of being in a student organization’s meeting where a blood drive is chosen as the next philanthropic event, knowing they cannot participate due to their sexuality. They have the privilege of never experiencing the two tiers of moral persecution that come with giving blood as an MSM. I am invisible amongst potential lifesavers. I am branded as the poster child for immorality — a homosexual liar.

While I cannot change the gay part, I refuse to lie again.

For the past few weeks, I have gotten calls from a blood bank about opportunities to save a life, tempting me to respond to the need with just another little white lie. The sad part is that I am sure the organization does not realize the impact of those calls — its request for my self-rejection.

I am confident the organization calling and other blood collecting organizations do not realize the internal conversation prompted every time that automated voice comes through the telephone, or I see signs for a blood drive or I roll past a car crash. In that conversation thrives cognitive dissonance, identity crisis and loss of self-value. Those outcomes surely are not the intent. Blood collecting organizations simply want me to answer the call.

In June 2013, the Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers and the American Association of Blood Banks released a joint statement in response to an event known as “The National Gay Blood Drive.” Those organizations took a public stance against the lifetime donation ban for MSMs. While they actually called for the FDA to change the ban to a one-year deferral, their progressive posturing and on-the-record advocacy is a tremendous step in the right direction.

It speaks to the fact that the “H” in HIV stands for human, not homosexual, as LGBT activist Blake Lynch says. It speaks to the reality that transmitting HIV through blood transfusion is about one in two million. It speaks to gays’ status as being human first. It speaks to progress.

The truth is that blood collecting organizations like the Red Cross always are out for blood because the need is always there. It is time the FDA follows suit and changes the policy. The FDA should answer the call, and end the ban on MSM blood donations. I want to save a life without the lie. I am confident that the patients in need will not care that I am gay.

Edward Scott  is a student in the School of Social Policy & Practice. His email address is scote@sp2.upenn.edu.

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