We don't like to touch each other without that barrier of latex gloves between us. We have been taught to be afraid of germs--- cold germs, more insidious viruses--- and not for no reason. Today, we live in a world terrified of diseases we cannot cure, diseases within our blood, diseases like AIDS. Unfortunately, fear of AIDS is less a fear of catching a disease and more a fear of "catching" poverty, blackness, and homosexuality. We have linked HIV/AIDS with the picture of poor black people in Africa, as though white USAmerican culture can begin to understand what Africa means in my lifetime, giving us a chance to send off money to assuage our guilt but continue to keep that barrier between us so we won't catch anything.
But HIV/AIDS has also been linked to a picture in which men have sex with other men. It is this picture that provides the religious right with fodder to call for a repentance that leads to hate rather than to salvation. And should we forget that this picture is indeed linked to our fear of HIV/AIDS, we need only to look at the questions the FDA asks to see if we are eligible to give blood:
You should not give blood if you have AIDS or have ever had a positive HIV test, or if you have done something that puts you at risk for becoming infected with HIV.You are at risk for getting infected if you: are a male [or a woman who has had sex with a man] who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977.
Here is homophobia at work. Initially, this was put into place because the virus wasn't understood well enough, and we did not have the ability to screen properly for HIV. But it is now 2010, and we are still stereotyping people as sick, still trying to keep that barrier in between us so we won't catch the gay.
In college, a few students I knew began a national college mobilization called the Fight to Give Life to remind us that men who have sex with men are not engaging in a fundamentally risky behavior that forever prevents them from giving blood, as the FDA would have us believe. It doesn't make sense: couldn't they have tested negative for HIV? This is a deliberate stereotyping of gay and bisexual men, a deliberate construction of a barrier between straight and gay,labeling gay as always dirty, even if there is no medical evidence. Let's not mix blood, for fear of the taint of their sexuality.
And though we should not demand to be convinced by numbers, I was drawn to this study (found on this site, done by the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law & Public Policy at the UCLA School of Law using data from the American Red Cross and the US Department of Health and Human Services regarding blood donation patterns in the US population. According to it, "Completely lifting the ban would add an estimated 219,000 pints to the blood supply and 903 organ donations each year. A more limited revision of the policy, which would limit blood donation by those men who have not had a male sex partner in the past year, would yield an estimated 90,000 additional pints of blood and nearly 370 organ donations annually. Finally, changing the blood supply policy to restrict donations by men who have had sex with men in the last five years would result in an additional 70,000 pints to the blood supply each year." So without even discussing blatant discrimination, these numbers speak to how ridiculous this federal ban is.
Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability meets to discuss the possibility of lifting the ban, which people have been working to overturn for years, most noticeably in 2006. The ban is not medically sound, as scientists and American Red Cross and America's Blood Centers insist. The only reason it is still in effect is homophobia. As a person of faith, I reject such a dehumanizing ban that acts as a barrier preventing one human being from reaching out to help another, from one who wants to share hir wealth of resources with someone in need. I am standing up to say something about it. I don't want this committee meeting to go by as it did in 2006 when such a discriminatory, medically unsound, unnecessary ban was upheld. Educate yourself so we can work together with those who have long been in the fight creatively to overturn this ban.
To learn more about the history of the ban and how people have worked against it, visit the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) website.
UNFORTUNATE UPDATE FROM HRC: "In a setback, today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability, after a two-day meeting, voted to recommend that the lifetime blood donation deferral policy for gay and bisexual men not be changed, citing insufficient scientific data to support any revision. However, the Committee did acknowledge that the current policy is imperfect and recommended additional research to support a policy that would allow low-risk gay and bisexual men to donate. The Committee's recommendations will now be considered by the Assistant Secretary for Health."
This kind of failure on the part of this committee cannot continue. This needs to become an important issue for people of faith especially to recognize and support.