July 13, 2014 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
‘Gay blood drive’ held to protest ban on gay donors

 

World Bank employee Mridula Mitra of Chevy Chase, Md., left, came to D.C.'s Red Cross blood center on Friday, July 11, to donate blood in place of her gay friend, Sharath Hiremagalore, right, a Virginia resident and graduate student at George Mason University. Both participated in the National Gay Blood Drive protest taking place that day in D.C. and more than 50 other U.S. cities. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

World Bank employee Mridula Mitra of Chevy Chase, Md., left, came to D.C.’s Red Cross blood center on Friday, July 11, to donate blood in place of her gay friend, Sharath Hiremagalore, right, a Virginia resident and graduate student at George Mason University. Both participated in the National Gay Blood Drive protest taking place that day in D.C. and more than 50 other U.S. cities. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

At least 16 gay or bisexual men showed up with a straight or lesbian ally on Friday at the Red Cross blood donation center in D.C. as part of a 60-city National Gay Blood Drive.

Organizers of the nationwide event, led by filmmaker and activist Ryan James Yezak, billed the blood drive as a protest against a U.S. Food & Drug Administration policy that prohibits men who have had sex with other men from donating blood.

Organizers in D.C. and other cities said the protest was aimed at drawing attention to the blood donation ban while serving as an actual blood drive in which straight or lesbian allies were donating blood in place of their gay male or bi male friends.

“At the end of the day they’re collecting blood from eligible donors, which is the most important thing because it’s saving lives,” said Jay Franzone, a spokesperson for the National Gay Blood Drive.

Yezak said in a statement that he initiated the idea of a gay blood drive last year to draw attention to what he believes to be a form of discrimination while promoting the importance of donating blood.

“Eligible allies can donate in place of the gay or bisexual men who cannot so that we not only raise awareness about the ban but also help contribute to the more than 41,000 blood donations needed every day,” Yezak said in a statement.

“We want the FDA to see how our community can benefit the nation’s blood supply, but also see how much we can contribute even when we are banned,” he said.

National LGBT rights organizations have long called on the FDA to change its policy to focus on risky behaviors of a potential donor rather than permanently banning every male who has had sex with another male at some point in his life.

“The policy is outdated, and as a result, otherwise eligible gay and bisexual men are unable to contribute to the nation’s blood supply and help save lives,” said Yezak, who has produced a documentary film about the FDA ban on gay and bi male donors.

“In addition, the ban perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes and negative stigma about the gay male population,” he said. “The current lifetime deferral focuses on sexual orientation, and we are calling on the FDA to change its policy so that it instead focuses on sexual behavior and individual risk.”

Laura Marler, one of the organizers of the event at D.C.’s American Red Cross donation center at 2025 E Street, N.W., said Red Cross officials gave their full “support and cooperation” of the event, welcoming donors as they arrived on Friday with their gay male or bi friends.

A Red Cross official at the D.C. blood donation center released a statement to the media on Friday saying the Red Cross and other blood centers are bound by the FDA policy.

According to the statement, the American Red Cross two other organizations – Advancing Transfusion and Cellular therapies Worldwide and America’s Blood Centers – “believe the current lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with other men should be modified and that donor deferral criteria should be made comparable with criteria for other behaviors that pose an increased risk for transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections.”

FDA spokesperson Jennifer Rodriguez told the Blade in an email that the safety of the U.S. blood supplies must remain one of the FDA’s highest priorities. She said the FDA expects licensed blood establishments to follow current regulations and guidance regarding donor eligibility.

“With that said, FDA remains willing to consider new approaches to donor screening and testing,” Rodriguez said. “If those approaches can assure that blood recipients are not placed at an increased risk of HIV or other transfusion transmitted diseases, FDA will consider a change to its current policy.”

Among those participating was Amy Loudermilk, deputy director of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s Office of GLBT Affairs, who donated blood in place of Sterling Washington, the GLBT Affairs Office’s director.

“We heard about it last night,” Loudermilk told the Blade shortly after arriving with Washington at the Red Cross building. “I sent around an email to my D.C. government colleagues and everybody thought it was a wonderful opportunity to participate in this event,” she said.

Added Loudermilk, “What this does is bring more awareness to the fact that a lot of people don’t know – that gay and bisexual men are prohibited from donating blood.”

Washington said that as the son of a man who donated large quantities of blood, he’s especially troubled that he is unable to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“As someone whose father donated over 120 pints in his lifetime it’s in my DNA, if you will, to donate blood. But I can’t because of my sexual orientation, which is unfair – not just to me but to the people who need blood,” he said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

5 Comments
  • I believe this means if the blood supply were not regulated by the FDA, but by the Red Cross and other voluntary groups certifying it, gay oriented clinics like Whitman Walker would be free to collect and use gay (HIV-) blood donations, which might even be primarily available to gay men in need of a transfusion.

    But instead we have a one size fits all policy mandated by the government.

    The FDA famously held up AIDS treatment drugs, since its one size fits all approach is to protect consumers from new drugs without years of trials, even when they have already been available in Europe and elsewhere for some years.

    As a libertarian I appreciated the scene in the recently released “The Normal Heart” where the doctor played by Julia Roberts, reads the riot act to U.S. federal health officials at NIH and elsewhere who are refusing to cooperate with French medical researchers, essentially over turf wars for credit.

    We need medical consumers to have choice and be free to control their own medical care.

  • Bruce P. Majors

    I believe this means if the blood supply were not regulated by the FDA, but by the Red Cross and other voluntary groups certifying it, gay oriented clinics like Whitman Walker would be free to collect and use gay (HIV-) blood donations, which might even be primarily available to gay men in need of a transfusion.

    But instead we have a one size fits all policy mandated by the government.

    The FDA famously held up AIDS treatment drugs, since its one size fits all approach is to protect consumers from new drugs without years of trials, even when they have already been available in Europe and elsewhere for some years.

    As a libertarian I appreciated the scene in the recently released "The Normal Heart" where the doctor played by Julia Roberts, reads the riot act to U.S. federal health officials at NIH and elsewhere who are refusing to cooperate with French medical researchers, essentially over turf wars for credit.

    We need medical consumers to have choice and be free to control their own medical care.

  • Eric Chamberlain

    This blood drive makes as much sense as women driving men to the polls to vote on their behalf before suffrage, or blacks taking their white friends to the pre-segregation lunch counter to order for them.

    If people really want to get the FDA's attention, people need to stop donating blood until the policy changes.

  • who thought this up?

  • Please sign the petition to allow #gay and #bisexual men the right to donate blood via http://Chn.ge/Kyplf0

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