Letter to the editor: Ban on blood donation is fear, not science

Matthew Chernesky

For nearly 30 years, the federal government has been discriminating against the Men who have Sex with Men community. More specifically: The Food and Drug Administration has barred healthy MSM individuals from donating blood. 

I am a 20-year-old student leader and sophomore. I am also gay. Earlier this year, I proudly worked with the Undergraduate Student Government to usher in the first student government endorsement of marriage equality in Ohio. While that was wonderful progress, my only LGBT rights priority isn’t marriage equality: we, as a community, must also fight to end discriminatory policies against MSM individuals who wish to donate blood. 

The ban was first introduced in the early 1980s under President Ronald Reagan as the AIDS epidemic was frightening the health community. The policy indefinitely bans any male who has ever had sex with another male (even once) since 1977. However, under the policy, sexually active heterosexuals are allowed to donate blood — a blatant sign of the stereotype that all gay men are diseased or infected.

Since the ban was established, many health experts and organizations that process blood donations have called on the FDA to reverse the ban. For example, the American Medical Association said in 2013 that “the lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science.” The American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks and America’s Blood Centers have all came out in opposition of the indefinite ban. 

This law was born out of fear and homophobia for the MSM community by the general public, elected officials and bureaucrats. At the time, the ban may have appeared to be a valid solution to combat the AIDS epidemic and prevent infecting blood banks. Science has undermined these unfounded concerns and modernized testing has provided safeguards to check for diseases and viruses with any donation.

When a man donates blood, they must reaffirm that they have not had sex with another male for, in most cases, their entire lives. This either forces the man to lie, violating the trust and honesty that is paramount within the health community or walk away, violating the tenants of equality that this country was founded on.

We must repeal this ban. We must champion for an equal health system where MSM individuals may donate blood to help support our community. We must side with science rather than this divisive fear that has been discriminating against millions of MSM Americans for decades. I ask you, the community, to support reversing this discriminatory and barbaric policy. It’s 2014 and my blood is just as good as yours.

Contact Matthew Chernesky at [email protected].