On July 12, 2013, documentarian Ryan James Yezak is championing the first National Gay Blood Drive in order to combat the outdated and antiquated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance document that has banned men who have sex with men (MSM) – and women who have sex with men who have sex with men – from donating blood for life. Such stipulations mean bisexual individuals are greatly affected by this rule, as well as gay men and the partners of bisexuals, among others.
Bisexuals Speak Out
Bisexual activist and blogger Patrick RichardsFink is one individual this policy directly impacts. "It is utterly ridiculous that in the 21st Century, over 20 years after my last sexual experience with anyone other than my partner, that both she and I are banned from giving blood (or selling plasma, a common extra job for college students)," RichardsFink told Bi Magazine. "People have told us to just lie on the application, but all that does is force me back into the closet – and make her a criminal for loving a bi guy."
To that point, Yezak’s focus on gay and bisexual men in this campaign leaves out the countless women impacted by the ban as well. Bisexual activist Lisa Jacobs said, “The MSM exclusion also excludes women who’ve had sex with a MSM. When I first tried to give blood, I was denied because I had a bisexual boyfriend with whom I’d had sex in the past year. It was quite a shock to me at the time."
Fellow bisexual activist witer & speaker Dr. Loraine Hutchins echoed Jacobs, saying, "It is not just men who have sex with men, it’s anyone who has sex with men who have sex with men; so many bi women and men are affected and always have been. I haven’t been able to give blood for years because I’ve had sex with gay and bi men, and they never asked if it was protected sex or not."
A Stigmatizing "Ban”
What many may not realize is that this disallowance is not an actual “ban," per se. Lauren Beach, J.D. and HIV researcher, explained to Bi Magazine, "There is no federal statute in the USA banning MSM from donating blood. Rather, the source of the ban comes from [the aforementioned] FDA guidance document. Although they are not legally binding, FDA guidance documents often wind up having the ‘force of law,’ because no industry representatives want to go against them and face repercussions from the agency."
Beach also noted that a single blood donation is usually split into multiple blood products that can span the nation in their distribution; that being the case, a single blood donation infected with HIV or any other blood borne transmittable disease could potentially infect not one, but many recipients.
This is a fraught issue, to say the least. On one side of the proverbial fence we have the need to stop stigmatizing a part of the population that has been decried for too long. Paul Nocera, a lead facilitator at BiRequest, a NYC Bisexual discussion group, added: "The blood donor screening practice is a long-standing policy that has stigmatized gay and bisexual men who are actually honest about their practices. These are most likely the same men who take extra safe precautions in the bedroom so that they keep a clear conscience. Meanwhile, we should really be worried about those who are less than truthful about their practices in the bedroom; living under a cloud of shame hurts every effort to be honest and communicative when it comes to keeping their bodies and their blood safe from infection. So aside from being a hurtful policy practice, it’s also hugely ineffectual."
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If you are interested in taking part in the first National Gay Blood Drive on Friday, July 12, 2013, or to access more information about the "peaceful nation-wide demonstration," visit www.gayblooddrive.com.