By Jay Franzone – Contributing Writer
As a junior, I’ve seen many blood drives come and go on the campus. It’s exciting to see ordinary people do something so selfless to save another life. It’s something I wish I could do, but I can’t, because I’m gay.
My uncle, Luciano, was a kind, gentle, man who overcame many obstacles to live his life. His liver and kidneys were deteriorated and he underwent surgery in order to restore those organs. During the surgery he suffered internal bleeding. As family raced to donate their blood directly to him, I was ready to give mine too.
I gave them my info, started filling out the donor questionnaire, and when I got to ques- tion number 35 I had to stop. It asked: “Since 1977 have you ever had sexual contact with another male, even once?”
I answered truthfully, “Yes,” and then was told that I couldn’t donate blood no matter how many HIV tests I took or how limited the sexual contact was. Had I lied, I could have given my blood. My uncle died two hours later. He was 48 years old and left behind two daughters and one grandson.
For decades, despite the constant de- mand for blood donors in this country, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has continued to ban gay and bisexual men from donating blood. The FDA adopted this guide- line at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.
The FDA has started to modify its policy from a lifetime ban to that of one-year. This timeframe requires gay and bisexual men to be abstinent before giving blood. But even this new policy has been referred to as unre- alistic, de-facto lifetime ban by many citizens, organizations, news outlets, and Congressio- nal officials.
Last year the Williams Institute at the University of California – LA completed a study stating 615,300 more pints of blood could be collected every year if the ban based on sexual orientation is removed. Policy mak- ers need to think critically about this issue and do their homework.
Until this policy is overturned, an esti- mated four million American men like me, will be forbidden from donating blood. When it comes to saving lives, science should trump bigotry and ignorance. Any risky behavior, sex- ual or not, should be thoroughly investigated for all people, regardless of race, age, creed, and sexual orientation. Then, decisions about their ability to give blood should be made based on the medical research that backs it up; not the fear and stigma of an agency or of a nation.