In the 1980s, the Food and Drug Administration implemented a policy banning men who have sex with other men from donating blood. The policy was developed amid fears that HIV, considered exclusive to the gay male community at the time, would contaminate the nation’s blood supply.
In the decades since this policy was established, advancements in medical science have allowed donated blood to be thoroughly tested for HIV and other pathogens such as hepatitis. Yet the ban remains despite this testing, and despite the fact that HIV is no longer restricted to the gay community. As MSNBC points out,”a heterosexual man or a woman having sex with an HIV-positive partner is restricted from giving blood for one year from that contact, while gay [and bisexual] men face a lifetime ban.”
And now, it seems, this ban extends to men who “look” gay. In Gary, IN, 22 year-old Aaron Pace was recently rejected as a blood donor. Although he is heterosexual, the young man’s effeminate appearance and mannerisms apparently stray too far from one company’s definition of straight masculinity. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Bio-Blood Components Inc. denied Pace’s application to give blood because Pace “appears to be a homosexual.”
“I was humiliated and embarrassed,” Pace told the Sun-Times.
Curt Ellis, former director of HIV/AIDS awareness group called the Aliveness Project of Northwest Indiana, added, “The policy is based on the stigma associated with HIV that existed early on.”
“It seems like some stigmas will just never die,” he said.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services voted against recommending a repeal of the original FDA policy.
In Indiana, the State Department of Health doesn’t have its own policy for blood donation criteria. “Nor do we advise blood donation centers on their individual policies,” a spokesperson told the Sun-Times. Bio-Blood Components could not be reached for comment.
“It’s not right that homeless people can give blood but homosexuals can’t,” said Pace. “And I’m not even a homosexual.”
Photo credit: Alan Levine