Blood drives lose by refusing gay blood

As far as making decisions goes, I was stuck. And I don’t mean gum on your shoe stuck, I mean between that rock and hard place stuck.

I knew I had to do something, and more importantly, I knew that I had remained silent for too long, but the potential consequences were darting back and forth in my mind.

Most people who know me would say that I rarely have qualms about expressing my opinion and fighting for what is right, but I knew that I would face adversity like never before if I did what I felt was right and protested an organization that many people on this campus uphold with dignity and respect – the American Red Cross blood drive.

According to the American Red Cross’ Donor Eligibility Guidelines, “men who have had sex with men, even once, since 1977,” are lumped in with intravenous drug users and prostitutes (among others), as people who are at risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS, rendering them ineligible donors.

Especially after researching HIV and AIDS myself as recently as December 2007, this ban appalls me.

Now, I am not going to sit here and pretend that HIV and AIDS are non-existent or unimportant issues in the gay community in dire need of reparation and action, because that would be untrue.

However, it is also untrue if anyone tells you that gay men are the highest percent of HIV/AIDS carriers and transmitters in the United States, like the head of the blood drive on campus on Feb.5 told me.

The highest percentage of HIV/AIDS carriers and transmitters in this country are actually adult heterosexual women. I have this picture in my head of what would happen if the Donor Eligibility Guidelines replaced “men who have sex with men” with “women who have sex with men.”

I imagine something resembling an uproar breaking out across our campus over a heterosexual woman ban on the blood drive. For gay and bisexual men, however, there is only silence.

As a Community Advisor on campus, my co-workers and I are constantly reminded that we live in a fishbowl of sorts.

We are paraprofessionals who need to maintain the same principles outside of our residence halls that we do when inside and on duty. The idea of being, as we are so often reminded, “representatives of the college” was a title that terrified me in this instance rather than instilled a sense of pride and obligation.

I could envision myself being depicted as one of those megaphone-blaring, torch-wielding rioters who pickets innocent people’s funerals and tells everyone that they are going to hell, and how that might not do me any favors when trying to get re-hired as a CA for next year.

Being the president of One in Ten, I met with my group the evening before and told them that I and my girlfriend were considering doing some sort of protest, and the group members agreed to keep the balance of their afternoons open in case we chose to go for it.

I decided before I did anything drastic that I should actually go to the blood drive to get my facts straight and have my questions answered. I was convinced that there had to be some greater reason other than blatant stigmatization behind the gay and bisexual men ban, given I couldn’t exactly think of one. But I guess it was a silent hope of mine.

I wasn’t shocked to find that hope dashed soon after arriving at the blood drive. A woman who identified herself only as Melissa told me she would be happy to answer any questions I had.

I decided to keep it open-ended to begin with and simply told her that it really bothered me that men who have had sex with men even once in the past 31 years were denied as blood donors, and that I questioned the reasoning behind it.

Melissa admitted that she did not have the official spokesperson paperwork in front of her, but continued to misinform me that “those people” are the highest carriers of HIV and AIDS, and that even though, in her own words, “it’s not really fair” to ban a large group of people, the American Red Cross felt it was too much of a risk to accept blood from gay male donors.

Part of the reason she felt it wasn’t fair, by the way, was because, and I quote, “Straight people do nasty things, too.”

It would have been an understatement to say that I was not impressed. Livid, in fact, was the emotion that came to mind.

After vehemently correcting Melissa’s outdated statistics, I also asked for confirmation on what I had heard to be true, but was not yet sure: Does the American Red Cross test all the blood before using it for transfusions?

Melissa beamed proudly and said, “Yes, we definitely test all the blood first,” clearly not seeing where I was going with this.

“Then wouldn’t you agree that it is useless to prevent anyone from giving blood if you end up testing it first anyway? Doesn’t that seem like you are ostracizing gay and bisexual men, among others, by saying that their blood isn’t even worth testing?” I asked.

Melissa, clearly wanting me to disappear, rambled on with a response that didn’t really answer my question, at all. I shook her hand, thanked her for her time, and left the Campus Center.

I knew that my fellow group members would be just as outraged as I was if I told them what had happened at the blood drive. If I authorized it, they would most likely have no qualms with brandishing fliers, signs, or any such paraphernalia about how the American Red Cross was heterosexist.

Before I drew the battle lines, however, something occurred to me.

While I was pouting and scowling during a previous blood drive, given they never put me in the greatest mood all things considered, a friend reminded me that even if the guidelines seemed nonsensical and discriminatory, the people needing the blood were not the enemy.

They were not the ones being particular about who or where their blood was coming from. It’s safe to say that those who need the transfusions are pretty much only concerned with being given another chance to spend time with their friends, families, and living their lives.

Needless to say, I went on with the rest of my day without disturbance, protest, or riot.

Other than my personal choice not to give blood until my gay and bisexual male friends can do the same, I’m still not positive what I want and am going to do to equalize things.

When thinking of all the “higher-ups” that go into decision making, it feels almost discouragingly impossible for little old me in little old Castleton, Vt. to make any sort of difference.

However, one of my favorite quotes does come to mind when thinking of our small, thoughtful, and committed college community:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead.

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