Donating blood is universal good, but not a universal right and there’s a lot of debate about whether it should be.
Sunday morning celebrated the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, with at least 49 people killed and another 53 wounded at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. In the consequences of the carnage, officials appealed to the public for blood donations to fill a dire want.
But advocates on social media and beyond were quick to point out that many queer friends, spouses and peers of those injured in the shooting could not donate blood. This is due to controversial, longstanding restrictions on making, aimed at men who have sex with men.
Men who have sex with men face a federally mandated forbidding on blood donation unless they abstain from same-sex sex contact for one year. This caveat to blood donation is known as the MSM ban or the men who have sex with men blood forbidding within the queer community.
Below, we explain what this policy signifies, and ways to navigate it responsibly in order to spread awareness and keep up the blood supply.
Why this is important
On the surface, the implementation of policies may seem like an improvement from where federal regulations once were. The blood forbidding, first set up in 1983 during the height of the AIDS crisis, previously placed a lifetime forbidding on any man who had sex with a human since 1977. Though the blood forbidding was modified in late December 2015, it still exists in a way that effectively avoids most men who have sex with men from donating due to the stipulation of abstinence.
“It’s the same lifetime ban, just dressed differently.”
Anthony Hayes, vice president of public affairs and policy at Gay Mens Health Crisis, tells Mashable the transformation to a one-year deferral is simply a repackaging of the lifetime forbidding , not a diminish or lifting. As it stands, the ban will still last a lifetime for many men who have sex with men even, for example, for an HIV-negative man who is in a monogamous marriage with another HIV-negative man.
“It’s the same lifetime ban, just dressed differently, ” Hayes says.
Michael Kaplan, CEO of AIDS United, highlights the fact that the behavior the present forbidding is packaged farthers the stigma around same-sex sexuality and anxiety around HIV and AIDS. He tells even the one-year forbidding has a harmful focus when it comes to assessing what, or who, is a growing threat to the safety of the blood supplying.
“The current forbidding encourages people to think of sexuality as a risk , not risky behaviour, ” Kaplan tells Mashable .
According to the Red Cross, current methods of testing the blood supplying for HIV can detect the virusfour to seven days after infection, with current testing techniques leaving the risk of HIV infection from a blood transfusion at 1 in 1,467, 000.
Even with those statistics, the Red Cross tells Mashable , the organization supports the one-year deferral for men who have sex with men.
“Medically supported donor deferral criteria are critical to the continued security of blood transfusion.”
“There is insufficient scientific data available to determine whether it’s safe to rely only on individual behavioral risk factors when determining donation qualification, ” tells Kara Lusk Dudley, public affairs manager at the Red Cross. “Medically supported donor deferral criteria are critical to the continued security of blood transfusion.”
The FDA, speaking immediately in response to Orlando’s mass shooting, echoed the Red Cross, stating the administration is constantly reevaluating its policies to be up-to-date with recent developments scientific evidence.
“At this time there is an adequate supply of blood to suit the needs, and the scientific proof is not available to support an alternative to the current deferral policy, ” FDA press officer Tara Goodwin told Mashable . “We empathize with those who might had intended to donate, but reiterate that at this time no one who needs blood is doing without it. That being said, the FDA is dedicated to continuing to reevaluate its blood donor deferral policies as new scientific information becomes available.”
Goodwin added that a security monitoring system for the blood supplying has been implemented nationally to help inform future actions the FDA may take on blood donor policies: “Moving forward, the FDA will continue to reevaluate and update its blood donor deferral policies as new scientific information becomes available.”
But many advocates in the queer community argue the ban is outdated, and that the individuals who assert the ban is backed by sound science are simply untrue. As alternative solutions, they’re calling for a focus on behaviour and individual hazard for all, rather than a focus on sex orientation.
Hayes tells a 30 -day deferral window for all at-risk populations, such as injection drug users not just men who have sex with men would be a better policy, and one that focuses on science instead of discrimination.
“The goal is to keep the blood supply safe and not discriminate, ” Hayes tells. “And you can do both sets of things. They are not mutually exclusive.”
What you can do
1. Ask someone to donate on your behalf or donate to honor those who can’t.
If you’re banned from donating as a human who has sex with men, talk to those in their own lives about blood donation. Explain to them why you can’t commit, and why you wish you could.
Then, call them to act by asking if they would donate on your behalf. Not only does that allow more blood donations, but it also trains those closest to you about a policy many aren’t well informed.
If you’re able to donate yourself, consider honoring those who can’t through donation and be vocal to blood donation organizers about why you’re donating.
Hayes tells this donation tactic helps organizers see how many people are willing to donate who simply can’t due to regulations, promoting organizers to engage in advocacy for policy change. After all, he tells, a change in policy would make their drives more successful.
“With this tactic, organizers would probably take a more active role by saying to the national organizations they are representing, ‘Listen, we turned away a number of people that were willing to donate why i am lesbian, ‘” Hayes says.
2. Volunteer at a blood drive while also spreading awareness of the ban.
Blood drives often look for volunteers to staff their donation events, serving to check in participants and watch over participates after donation. Donating your time, specially when you can’t donate your blood, is one of the main ways you can give back in a big way.
To help spread awareness and start dialogues of the ban, Hayes recommends asking organizers if you can wear a label that tells, “Ask me why I can’t donate.” From there, you are able to casually spread awareness during the event.
“This is really about grassroots organizing that requires everyone who is bothered by it to speak up, ” Hayes says.
When having those dialogues about why you can’t donate, Kaplan recommends being open about the tricky balance between being appalled by the ban but still craving others who aren’t banned to donate.
Make sure those you approach know that by talking about the ban at a blood donation event, you aren’t trying to discourage participants from donating. Instead, you’re advocating for even more donations in the future.
3. Know who has the ability to change the policy.
When you’re advocating for change, its important to know who has the power to attain that change happen. Although many blood donation organizations support the current one-year deferral on men who have sex with men, they ultimately do not hold the power to change the policy.
“American Red Cross and all blood collectors in the U.S. are required to follow the rules and counseling put forward by the FDA, including blood donation qualification, ” Lusk Dudley says.
Though being vocal at blood drive events can help drive awareness, change will only happen if the FDA deems it safe. Kaplan tells the best thing someone can do is weigh in at the FDA level, stating their frustration in the ban and advocating for individual assessment of risks over sexuality-based restrictions.
To contact the FDA, you can find non-emergency lines and mailing addresses here.
4. Support organizations working to change the blood ban.
Though many major blood donation organizations, including the American Red Cross, Americas Blood Middle and American Association of Blood Banks( AABB ), support the current one-year forbidding, it’s often necessary to still support them to adequately fill the need for blood. These organizations, after all, are major sources of the blood supplying in the U.S.
To balance the need to support these organizations with your displeasure with the ban, seek out organizations that are working to advocate for the bans repeal in favor of two alternatives.
Gay Mens Health Crisis, Kaplan tells, has been at the forefront of advocacy for years, rendering comprehensive alternatives to the ban. Unfortunately, he tells, the organization is one of the only national organizations constructing it a priority to repeal the policy.
Many HIV and AIDS awareness organizations, however, are working to decrease stigma around same-sex sexuality and the virus, which is essential to thinking critically of the ban. Organizations like AIDS United and research efforts like The Williams Instituteare some of the most difficult names working to transformation the dialogue.
Another option? Before making to your favorite LGBTQ advocacy organization, ask what its stance is and see if you want to support it.
“There are people out there who are ready, willing, able and healthy in terms of their HIV status or any other blood illness who want to donate, ” Hayes tells. But they cant because the federal government is still discriminating. That needs to change.”
Editor’s note : The death toll has been updated to 49, to omit the shooter, per the FBI on Monday. The narrative has furthermore been updated to include comment from the FDA .
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