Blood donors wanted: unless you’re gay

Getty Images photo by Elke Meitzel.

Getty Images/Image Source

Getty Images photo by Elke Meitzel.

Rayanne Painter

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When entering the American Red Cross website, a red banner pops up on the top of the screen: Critical Need for Blood and Platelets.

Unfortunately for the Red Cross and those who benefit from their donations, less than 38 percent of people in the U.S. are eligible to give blood. This gives urgency to finding eligible donors, but surprisingly enough, they will turn down potential donors on the basis of who they have sex with.

This boils down to only one category of people: men who have sex with men (MSM.)

Historically, MSM have been banned by the FDA from donating blood since the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1983. While this ban has been revised as of 2015, a gay man must remain abstinent for an entire year before they can be eligible for donating blood or platelets. Gay and bisexual men are at most risk for HIV/AIDS because it is the riskiest type of sex for infection, according to AIDS info.

This might seem like a reasonable cautionary for some, but let’s really break this down. When HIV/AIDS was first being detected, it was believed to only be affecting gay men. This perpetuates the idea that people in the LGBTQ+ community cause life-threatening diseases, which, of course, made gay men less likely to get tested in fear of receiving societal backlash if anybody discovered that they were getting tested. So yes, having anal sex does put gay men at more of a risk, but so does this stigma around HIV/AIDS testing.

But here’s the kicker: everybody who has sex is susceptible to contracting these infections. While all types of unprotected sex can contract HIV/AIDS, the reason anal sex is so risky is that tears are more likely to happen and the infection can be introduced directly into the bloodstream. This is not only a MSM problem, as anybody who has had anal sex is at high risk. That goes for anybody who’s had vaginal sex, tears can occur as well, and the membrane in a vagina is also able to contract HIV/AIDS, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In my opinion, anybody who’s willing to give blood and is eligible in every other way should be allowed to do so. There is no reason to disqualify MSM from giving blood, especially when the Red Cross claims that they’re in such desperate need for donors.Their outdated rules are continuing the stigma that HIV/AIDS exists as an issue because gay men don’t take care of their sexual health. when really it is an issue for anybody who is sexually active.

Blood that is donated is going to be tested anyways. The Red Cross is vague on their statement about this; they claim to test all blood, but state that they cannot be 100 percent certain on the status of HIV/AIDS being present. This is the reason behind their year of abstinence rule for MSM, but with that logic, everybody who is sexually active should be abstinent because we all could potentially be at risk.

All of this makes me wonder if these misconceptions around HIV/AIDS is because of the lack of research being done around LGBTQ+ health issues. From my personal viewpoint, I think there would be a lot more clarity on the subject if it had been a predominantly heterosexual issue in the past.

Rayanne Painter can be reached at [email protected] or @rayphenomenon on Twitter.

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