by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
Friday, July 12, marked the first-ever nationwide Gay blood drive demonstration to promote visibility of what's commonly called the 'Gay blood ban,' which prohibits men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating their blood to organizations such as the Red Cross. The National Gay Blood Drive was part of a campaign by filmmaker Ryan James Yezak to increase pressure on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift the ban, and it made local news across the country. Seattleites participated in the event at the Puget Sound Blood Center.
The event was staged as a part of Yezak's feature-length documentary project, Second Class Citizens, which he says covers all aspects of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
'The ban is outdated. As a result, countless otherwise eligible Gay and Bisexual men are unable to contribute to the nation's blood supply and save lives. Not only that, but the ban perpetuates negative stereotypes and stigma,' said Yezak. 'Whether intentional or not, it is discrimination based on sexual orientation.'
HOW IT WORKED
In cities across the nation, men showed up to their local donation centers, first taking mobile rapid HIV tests to confirm their virus-free status. Participants who tested negative then took their result inside to donation centers where they were each summarily rejected.
For each openly Gay or Bisexual man turned away, organizers compiled test results and will deliver them to the FDA to demonstrate the volume of healthy, useable blood that is being denied for donation because of the existing policy.
'We spent so much time and hard work leading up to it, it almost became this thing that was never actually going to happen,' said Yezak afterward. 'And it has happened, thanks to all of you who participated and took action.'
The FDA initiated the ban in 1985, preventing any MSM who has been sexually active with another man since 1977 - even once - from donating blood for fear of drawing HIV-contaminated blood. The FDA also cited syphilis as a concern when it initiated the ban.
Many see the policy as archaic, arguing that much has changed since the ban was initiated at the peak of the American AIDS crisis. The American Medical Association (AMA) recently came out against the ban, calling it 'discriminatory' and 'not based on sound science,' but the FDA has remained mostly quiet on the subject and refuses to change its stance.
U.S. NOT ALONE
Such bans are still an international hot topic. Currently, Spain, Poland, Mexico, Italy, Uruguay, and Chile are among the few countries with no such policies. France, Israel, Germany, and many other Western countries have complete bans on MSM blood much like the United States, while the United Kingdom allows it only for those who haven't had sex with another man in the last year.
To learn more about the effort to end the Gay blood ban in the United States, visit www.gayblooddrive.com. You can find the campaign on most popular social media platforms as well, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube. To learn more about Yezak's film, visit www.youtube.com/ryanjamesyezak.
'This is not a protest,' said Yezak of the demonstation. 'This is not meant to be political. This is a demonstration of peace, of love, of being a human being.'
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