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Letter to the editor: Gay Blood

April 8, 2016

This week, many Monmouth College students and I went to donate blood. I was deferred indefinitely. However, I already knew that I was deferred and would be again. Something that great deals of people don’t know about is that men who have sex with men still cannot donate blood.

Currently the FDA defers any man who has sex with men (MSM) and any woman who has sex with an MSM. This ban has been in place since 1985, and since then, the only change implemented to allow gay men to donate is to abstain from sex for one year. The FDA claims that this is to ensure the safety of all receiving the blood which has been donated. The reasoning on their website is stated, “MSM are, as a group, at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion. [MSM] represent approximately 2% of the US population, yet are the population most severely affected by HIV. In 2010, MSM accounted for at least 61% of all new HIV infections in the U.S.”

The FDA is not wrong regarding this risk assessment; as a gay man I am at higher risk for HIV infection. However, this assessment does not take into account sexual history, HIV testing, monogamy within relationships, abstinence and the status of donors who, like me, are on PrEP. The FDA knows that their system is flawed, according to their website, and doesn’t have the ability to identify these factors, yet they do nothing to fix it. What’s more, I learned recently that blood donation centers are still not allowed to accept gay donors, because the FDA has yet to approve a questionnaire that reflects their one year deferral, meaning that I still have an indefinite deferral.

As for questionnaire screening, I could have very easily lied about my sexuality and I would have been treated as any other donor. I am healthy and disease free, and on PrEP, I am 92% less likely to contract HIV. Blood taken from donors is thouroughly screened for diseases anyway. There is no difference between a heterosexual donating blood and a homosexual male; it all gets screened. There has never been a case of HIV transmitted from a blood donor to recipient in the modern day.

I have been asked why I don’t lie. My answer is that I shouldn’t have to lie about who I am. In today’s society we are pushing for equality for all, and part of that equality is not having to lie about my sexuality. By doing so, I am being forced to erase a part of myself and put on facade. These regulations are direct demonization of gay men.

The FDA is discriminating against gay men and it is not acceptable. Some may argue that this topic is not important and that there isn’t a need since there is no blood shortage, but it is more than that. If we allow the FDA to continue this treatment of gay men, we will always be a step behind on full equality. We are just trying to save lives, and we cannot do that if these kinds of regulations are in place.

Submitted by Curtis Galloway,
revised from original version written for Vital Voices,
published on November 16, 2015.

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