Post submitted by Ryan James Yezak, founder of National Gay Blood Drive
Despite a constant need for blood, and the essential role donors play in replenishing the supply, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans gay and bisexual men from donating blood.
My personal journey with this ban began three years ago. There had been a natural disaster in the Midwest and my boss at the time asked me if I wanted to go donate blood with her. Without hesitation, I said yes.
I got up to grab my stuff when all of a sudden I had this vague memory of donating blood in high school – there had been this one particular question that more or less asked if I was gay. A quick Google search confirmed my memory. A gay blood ban, also known as the MSM deferral, bans any man who has had sex with another man since 1977, from giving blood-- for life.
I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t feel real. I had to tell my boss that while I was healthy as could be, I could not donate due to the fact that I was gay. I had to explain the situation to everyone in my department. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was being treated differently solely on the basis of my sexual orientation - it felt alienating, it felt wrong, but above all - it felt unnecessary. I was not okay with it and so I set off to make a documentary about it.
I spent the next two years trying to figure out why this ban was still in place. I could not find a sound answer. The FDA refused my request for an interview. I called, I emailed, and as a last, unsuccessful, attempt I even went to Washington, D.C. to try to talk to them in person - but was turned away by their security.
I was ready to accept defeat and throw in the towel. Then I thought to myself: if they won’t let us be a part of this life-saving process, then we’ll organize a blood drive of our own. It was at that moment that the National Gay Blood Drive was born.
Last year, we organized the blood drive for the very first time and had hundreds of people participate throughout the country. Gay and bisexual men got tested to show their eligibility to donate and were then permanently deferred. We wanted to show the FDA that our community has something to contribute to the nation’s blood supply, so, afterwards, I delivered all of the negative test results to the FDA. I ended up receiving a generic response from Health and Human Services linking me to the MSM section of the FDA’s website - the same information I had been sent many times before.
What surprised me most about last year’s drive was the nearly equivalent amount of support and participation from our allies - people I didn’t even think this ban impacted. But the truth is that this ban affects everyone. 41,000 blood donations are needed every day. Someone needs a blood donation every two seconds in the U.S., and you never know when that someone is going to be you. People who need blood don’t care whether it’s straight blood or gay blood - blood is blood. They want safe blood and that is something that our community has to offer them.
I have organized the National Gay Blood Drive again this year, this time in a way that more people can get involved with, including eligible ally donors. On July 11, gay and bisexual men will come out in 61 cities around the country to show their willingness to contribute to the nation’s blood supply by bringing eligible allies to donate in their place. We will be raising awareness, we will be helping save lives, and we hope to see you there.
In addition to the drive, we have launched a White House petition calling on the FDA to end its ban against gay and bisexual male blood donors. If we can get 100,000 signatures by July 30, President Obama’s administration will issue a response to the ban. This has yet to happen, and signing the petition is another action that you can take at this time.