Kerry, others: lift ban on gay blood donors

I was a frequent blood donor. So much so that I'd get a call from the Red Cross every time there was a blood drive anywhere in my area. And I, invariably, always showed up to give blood. I have always considered it a privilege to donate blood. Then one day, I - well, one day, I had sex. And I couldn't give blood anymore. For life. Not because I have any sexually transmitted diseases; I don't. I can't donate blood anymore because I had sex.

You see, I'm gay. And gay men - well the ones who've ever had sex at any rate - are banned from the privilege of giving life, giving blood because of a policy of lifetime ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) instituted by the FDA in 1983. With everything else that makes gay Americans second class citizens, I suppose the ban on giving blood is small potatoes, but I feel very strongly about it. That is why I was delighted this morning to see Sen. Kerry lead a letter co-signed by several other Senators to the FDA asking to have this ban lifted. Sen. Kerry made the glaring discrimination clear in his letter:
prospective donors who have engaged in heterosexual sexual activity with a person known to have HIV are deferred for one year. At the same time, male donors who engaged in protected homosexual sexual activity with a monogamous partner 26 years ago are deferred for life... The ban also does not distinguish between safe and unprotected sexual activity. As a result, healthy blood donors are turned away every day due to an antiquated policy and our blood supply is not necessarily any safer for it.
I'm one of those healthy blood donors - born, incidentally, the year this policy was put into effect. The ban is not just discriminatory, however. The scientific community agrees that the ban also has no basis in sound science.
The American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, and AABB reported before an FDA-sponsored workshop on March 9, 2006 that the ban on men who have had sex with other men (MSM), even once, since 1977 from ever donating blood “is medically and scientifically unwarranted.” Then in 2008, the Council on Science and Public Health at the American Medical Association also advocated modifying the lifetime deferral requirement for MSM.
Let's be clear about something. There is a myriad of risky sexual activities that put one at risk for HIV. Sex between two men, both tested and clean, isn't one of those activities. Monogamous relationships between men aren't one of those activities. As Sen. Kerry says in his Bay Windows op-ed, not a single piece of scientific evidence backs up the ban. But, I suppose it's now a faith based initiative from the FDA. In the op-ed, Sen. Kerry once again cuts to the heart of the ridiculous policy:
FDA guidelines dictate that if you pay a heterosexual prostitute for sex you are deferred from donating blood, but for just one year following the incident... But a man who has had protected sex with a monogamous male partner, even one time 33 years ago, is barred for life from donating blood.
Blood donations save lives. It is not just wrong to deny us the opportunity to be part of that lifesaving process. It is cruel to those who need blood. Our nation, most of the time, runs on a shortage of blood supply. Lifesaving surgeries have to be cancelled on a routine basis because of the shortage of blood supply. Could some of those lives be made better if I were able to give blood again? If millions like me were?

I am asking you to get involved. Call FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg at 1-888-463-6332 and tell her to lift this ban.  I am also posting below the list of the Senators who have signed onto Sen. Kerry's letter. If your Senators are not on the list - and I frankly don't care if they're Republican or Democratic or something else - call them and ask them to sign the letter. If your Senators are on the list, call them also, and thank them for their stand.

THANK YOU to the signatories to the Kerry letter:
  • John Kerry (MA)
  • Kirstin Gillibrand (NY)
  • Dick Durbin (IL)
  • Daniel Akaka (HI)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)
  • Sherrod Brown (OH)
  • Frank Lautenberg (NJ)
  • Bob Casey (PA)
  • Bernie Sanders (VT)
  • Russ Feingold (WI)
  • Mark Udall (CO)
  • Al Franken (MN)
  • Maria Cantwell (WA)
  • Carl Levin (MI)
  • Tom Harkin (IA)
  • Mark Begich (AK)
  • Rolland Burris (IL)
  • Michael Bennet (CO)
And here are the numbers to the Capitol Switchboard so that you can call and ask for your Senators, and either thank them or ask them to get on board. In fact, call your Representative in the House as well, and tell them to get on board, too. The numbers: 1-866-338-1015, 1-866-220-0044, 1-866-311-3405.

Will you stand up so that I can donate blood again?