Queer Corner: Lifetime Blood Ban

I remember I was really excited when I turned 17 in high school, because that was when I could finally donate blood (I’m a nerd, it’s true). I donated whenever I could, and was really excited that I could have a donor card of my very own. Sitting through the question portion was always the worst (except for the big pointy needle), and I was always afraid that I would screw up and say that yes, I did get a blood transfusion in the Falkland Islands in the ’80s. Whoops. At the time, I thought all of their questions were strange, and would stop only a few people ever from donating blood. I didn’t think that I wouldn’t be able to donate blood at some point because of who I am.

I get asked to donate blood at least once a month here on campus, and reply with “Sorry, can’t; it’s illegal,” and usually get confused looks from people. I ask other students if they’re donating blood, and they usually say no and talk about how they have a paper due or that it’s during their lunch time. Unable to donate blood myself, I would love to sit in the weird chair, squeeze the stress ball and volunteer my blood to someone who might need it in place of any of those people. Most people don’t know why others can’t donate blood, and take their own donation status for granted.

The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has repeatedly upheld a law that’s been around since 1983 which bars all gay men who have ever been sexually active from donating blood. The original intent was to stop the HIV/AIDS epidemic from spreading, which was probably a good move at the time, but since then has become outdated and biased. Blood donation techniques have improved, and keep on improving, to the point where the Associated Press reports that with scans done on donated blood, HIV can be detected 10-21 days after infection. The American Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood in the nation, has criticized the FDA for a policy which is scientifically unstable and discriminatory.

While socially stigmatized as being a disease only gay men can get, anyone who practices unsafe sex, regardless of orientation, gender, age, socio-economic status or favored sports team, has a chance of contracting HIV. You’ve probably heard it a million times, but having safe sexual habits will protect you against some of the potentially bad parts about being sexually active. Though being safe doesn’t mean that you can’t have just as much fun.

So going into my third year here at Colgate, I’ve been unable to donate approximately 4-5 times a year, and if I could have saved up to three lives per donation, that’s about 30 lives that I could have been helped if I was allowed to donate. I’m at loss on this subject because I’m clean (except sometimes when I wake up late for my morning classes). I’ve gotten tested, and do so regularly. I always make sure to practice safe sexual routines. I don’t use intravenous needles recreationally, and comply with every other guideline to donate. Even if I brought in a note from my doctor, I still couldn’t donate, because of a policy that discriminates against me because of my sexual orientation.

I’ve been told I should lie and donate blood anyway, and I know people that do just that. But being quiet won’t get the policy changed and it won’t make anyone else more likely to donate themselves. Instead of searching for excuses to not donate, realize that there are so many more reasons to donate and contribute to a good cause.

So when the time rolls around where you see the Coop tables during lunch time, and you get Campus Distribution e-mails advertising a blood drive, please donate, because every donation is important. If you can’t donate for yourself, donate for me, and millions of people like me that would like to donate, but are banned from doing so.

Contact Eugene Riordan at [email protected].