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A Straight Man Comments on Gay Blood Donors

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Dear Ramon,

I am a straight man and a frequent blood donor. Every time I give blood I'm asked if I've "had sexual contact with another man since 1977." Now, the answer is always no, but I keep asking myself how can that be an issue today for most of the men born well after the major AIDS crisis? Many of my friends who are gay were born in the late eighties and likely have had no sexual contact with men that may have been even a minor threat during the 80's and early 90's. How can I, as a straight person with basically the same odds of contracting HIV, give blood, while my friends cannot? Why too does this not also pertain to lesbians?

Lastly, why can I have the luxury of withdrawing my choice to donate in the event of getting HIV, while gay men whom are just as likely as me to be clear of the virus, are just flat-out banned? Basically I figure it comes down to politics, but it just seems so very wrong and intolerant.

David
Ithaca, NY


Hi David,

Unfortunately, the AIDS crisis is far from over. It may seem that way since much of the focus (and the funding) has shifted elsewhere. In fact, this June it will be 26 years since the first AIDS case was recorded. Back in 1981, HIV and AIDS was still considered a "rare cancer that affected homosexuals." It took almost 25 years for researches to determine that gay men are not the origin of AIDS.

Sadly, the stigma that associates gay men with HIV continues and gay men are still considered a high risk group, despite your accurate claim that these days a straight person has basically the same odds of contracting HIV as a gay person.

Nonetheless, our friends at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) aren't as observant. In 1985, the government watchdog banned msm's after 1977 from donating blood and bone marrow under the premise that these men are at higher risk of contracting and transmitting HIV and hepatitis. The FDA still believes msm's pose a higher health risk to potential recipients than say straight men, women or lesbians.

The U.S., unlike other countries such as South Africa, has yet to lift this antiquated law. Meanwhile, gay men continue to be turned away from blood donation centers despite the dire need for donor blood. The FDA's rationale concerning blood risk makes about as much sense as the Defense Department's rationale for discharging much needed military personnel because they are gay. Just because it's the law doesn't mean it's in the best interest of the country or the people.

On another note, I must state that your friends aren't completely in the clear just because they are late 80's babies. There are over 40 million men, women and children living with HIV today. It would be silly to fall into the same trap as the FDA by assuming that one group is of less risk than another. In other words, anyone who is sexually active (both hetero- and homo-) is at risk today.

Also, (as if an outright ban on gay blood donors seems extreme given that other peoples are also at risk) did you know gay men are also prohibited from donating sperm?

Here's how you can help the FDA along with its decision:
  1. Contact the FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research via Phone: 800-835-4709 or 301-827-1800
    Email: octma@cber.fda.gov or
    Mail:
    CBER Ombudsman (HFM-4)
    Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research
    1401 Rockville Pike, Suite 200N
    Rockville, MD 20852-1448

  2. Voice your concern to your State Senator and Representative.
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