The Outrageous Celibacy Requirement for Gay Blood Donors

Published: November 22, 2014

The Daily Beast
Jay Michaelson
Original Article:

An FDA committee recommends shrinking lifetime ban to one-year ‘deferral period’—but it’s still more politics than science.
Can you be a victim of discrimination if no one knows you are?

Such is the case for gay and bisexual men, who are still, in 2014, banned from donating blood, even though most people probably don’t know it. This week, an FDA committee recommended modifying the ban, but essentially still keeping it in place. I’m not impressed.

I first found out about the gay blood ban when I innocently went to donate blood about 15 years ago, just after I’d come out. I schlepped down to the blood drive, innocently filled out the questionnaire, and was told at the last minute that I was ineligible. Why? Because I admitted having sex with another man after 1977.

That’s right: one sexual encounter with another man since the Carter administration, and you’re not allowed to give blood.

Of course, if you lie—for example, because you’re in the closet, or because you’re basically straight but there was that one time in college—then, no problem. It’s not like there’s a background check. Thus, perversely, the ban keeps the riskiest donors—men who have sex with men but aren’t open about it—in the pool, while keeping safe, monogamous, or asexual-for-twenty-years gay men out.

Obviously, the ban once made sense. It was instituted in 1983, at the height of the AIDS crisis. There was no way to test blood for HIV, and excluding gays was a prudent move.

But that was 31 years ago. Testing methods can now detect HIV within ten days of infection. And a more relevant questionnaire—say, asking men if they’ve had unprotected sex, period, rather than sex with other men—would render the risk of HIV contamination infinitesimal. Much smaller, in fact, than that of other pathogens. Yet, nothing has changed.

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