A man from Chicago was rejected from donating blood at a blood center in Gary, Ind., because he looked “too gay,” the Chicago Sun Times reported Tuesday.
There’s a lot of things wrong with this story.
For one, the man, 22-year-old Aaron Pace, says he is not homosexual, but was judged to be gay based on his “effeminate” appearance and behavior.
Pace’s response to the incident also seems reprehensible on its own: “It’s not right that homeless people can give blood but homosexuals can’t,” Pace told the Times.
I don’t really want to know where he’s going with that comparison.
More than anything, what’s wrong this story is the policy that prevents gay men from donating blood.
The policy, which was implemented by the Food and Drug Administration in 1983 because of fears that HIV was tainting the blood supply, states that any man who has had intercourse with another man is not allowed to donate blood.
Last year, an FDA panel admitted that its blood donation rules were flawed, but said it would not lift the ban on gay donors until more research could be done.
Amanda Hess, an writer/editor at Good Magazine who often tackles gender and sex issues, recently wrote a passionate argument for amending policy called “Blood Libel: America’s Ban on Gay Blood Should Go.”
Hess points out that several other demographics that are known to be at a heightened risk for HIV infection — intravenous drug users, sex workers, incarcerated men — are less affected by the ban of giving blood that men who have sex with men are.
“People who pay for sex or sleep with a drug user are only deferred from donating for 12 months,” Hess writes. “If you're a guy who has sex with a guy—again, just once—your blood is deemed compromised forever.”
Gay rights campaigners have also called attention to how outdated the policy is. Curt Ellis, former director of the Aliveness Project, a community center for people living with HIV/AIDS, told the Sun-Times that Pace's exclusion was “unfair, outrageous and just plain stupid. The policy is based on the stigma associated with HIV that existed early on.”
Hess suggests that the best solution to this problem is that FDA get cracking on that research they promised. With better research, Hess writes, “the FDA may be able to tailor its blood donation rules to more specific sexual behaviors that cut across orientation, like monogamous sex or condoms-every-time sex.”
With that kind of amended policy, a man like Pace would not be judged on the way he dresses, or what gender he chooses to sleep with, but on more relevant criteria such as how many partners he has had.
The FDA has given no timeline for that new research, so it’s unclear whether the ban might be lifted or the policy amended any time soon.
“Until then,” Hess writes, “asking gay men to stop having sex with men—in effect, to stop acting gay—will continue to fuel stigma.”