For years, college campuses across the District have been prime locations for blood drives sponsored by the American Red Cross.
That’s ironic because at these schools – home to hundreds of gay students in a famously gay city – sizeable portions of their student populations won’t ever be able to participate.
American, Georgetown and George Washington universities have all previously hosted blood drives, some as recently as just a few months ago. So have Howard and Catholic universities, as well as the University of D.C. But the Food and Drug Administration’s new rule change for donations, which changed a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men to requiring one year of abstinence from sex, doesn’t make much of a difference for men with male partners at these schools.
The FDA’s rule change still reinforces negative stereotypes and stigmas about gay men and the seemingly dirty nature of our sexual practices. This stigma is not a fact of life the LGBT community should complacently discount or downplay.
Supporters of the status quo who argue that gays are respected as equals need look no further than their television sets: For better or for worse, the bottom line is that, heading into 2015, there’s still so much more to accomplish on the gay rights front. The blood ban deferral is just a symptom of a larger problem.
For every show featuring openly LGBT actors like “Orange is the New Black,” with transgender activist Laverne Cox, there’s an equally offensive portrayal out there getting just as much play. Take, for example, TLC’s “My Husband’s Not Gay.” The show features a series of Utah-based Mormon women working through marital issues with their husbands – all of whom admit they are attracted to men, but place their bets on conversion therapy.
The bigotry we see on TLC isn’t an isolated incident.
Last summer’s “The Normal Heart,” a play-turned-HBO special written by Larry Kramer, which powerfully captures the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, has won numerous awards and accolades. But unfortunately, so has HBO’s “Looking.” It’s a decisively boring sitcom back for its second season featuring a lead character fighting a losing battle with his internalized homophobia.
In one particularly disturbing episode, Patrick Murray, played by Jonathan Groff, snaps at his friends who accuse him of having a “gay laugh” — as if even minor displays of femininity are somehow repugnant or culturally unacceptable.
Is “Looking,” hailed as one of the first shows featuring an almost entirely gay cast, what our community wants to showcase to closeted or self-hating teens?
Inexplicably, even many young, progressive members of the gay community have been thrilled with the one-year deferral policy on donating blood. They’ve cited a Williams Institute press release estimating the new rules could lead to 317,000 additional pints of blood donated annually by 185,800 additional gay male donors.
But new technology can detect HIV in blood within nine days. So, beyond perpetuating stigma that’s already so pervasive in the media, what’s the point in mandating celibacy for a full 365 days?
Yes, for young gays today, life is better than perhaps it’s ever been before. Still, society as a whole is not collectively where it should be — and the one-year deferral on blood donations from gay people does not do enough to move us forward.
Instead of putting gay men in the same category as prostitutes, the federal government should have looked to countries like Italy and Spain, both of which rely on detailed background checks of all potential donors to determine whether their blood is suitable for donating.
A policy along those lines would account for instances of HIV contracted through frequent sex with multiple partners, but it wouldn’t unfairly discriminate against one segment of the population.
In other words, it doesn’t assume — as the current one-year deferral does — that a gay person in a monogamous sexual relationship is more likely to have HIV/AIDS than a promiscuous straight person.
So if you are a student in the D.C. area looking to donate blood — perhaps through Georgetown Donors or the GWU Red Cross Club, student organizations geared toward hosting campus blood drives — be aware: The FDA’s rules help cement long-held stereotypes against gay people.
Justin Peligri is a student at George Washington University.