Gay men want to give you their blood

But they're not allowed to. Why are we still stuck in AIDS panic?

Topics: LGBT, AIDS, HIV,

Gay men want to give you their blood (Credit: luchschen via Shutterstock/Salon)

The past few years have seen a remarkable surge of progress in both our collective attitudes and formal policies toward gay men and women. We have marriage equality in multiple states. A president who speaks of gay rights in his inauguration speech. Athletes and country music stars and Emmys hosts who are proudly out. Tolerance as a top 20 hit. So why then are we still stuck in the ’70s when it comes to something as elemental as blood donation? If you are a man who has slept with another man any time since 1977, you are automatically out of luck if you want to be a blood donor. The FDA has permanently deferred men who have had homosexual sex from donating for the past 30 years.

One could to some degree understand the ban in the world of 1983, when the AIDS crisis was in its earliest days. Then, the causes and risks of HIV were still not fully known, testing was still unreliable and survivorship all but unheard of. But we live in a different world now, where the risks to blood donors are vastly different — and we have lived in that world for a very long time. We have been able to test for HIV in the blood and plasma for 28 years. We have not had an HIV transmission via infusion in 26. Yet today, gay men are still considered a “highest-risk blood-donor category.” As Mike Darling of Men’s Health puts it, “Even with a clean bill of health, a gay man is considered more of a threat to the blood supply than a straight man who was treated for Chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, venereal warts, and genital herpes within the past year.” And that’s what makes it so ridiculous and insulting and shaming — it treats gay men (or men who’ve just experimented sexually with other men) as permanently unworthy, while conspicuously ignoring other categories of sexually active adults. In an email to the Boston Globe last week, an FDA spokesman casually explained that gay men fall into the same deferral category as “intravenous drug abusers and commercial sex workers.” Even now, after all this time, gay men’s blood is seen as ominously dangerous.



The AABB, America’s Blood Centers (ABC) and the American Red Cross have for the past seven years argued that “the current lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with other men is medically and scientifically unwarranted” and that there “is no sound rationale … for a near lifetime deferral.” And last month, the American Medical Association likewise declared that the ban should be lifted, saying, “The ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science.” It went on to advise that “blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.”

But the times may finally be changing. Last week, 53 cities across the country lined up in the first Gay Blood Drive to “bring attention to the ban and increase pressure on the FDA to lift it.” The movement’s lead organizer, Ryan James Yezak, is currently making a documentary tracing the “medically unwarranted” ban. The results were as expected – writing in Vice, Jamie Lee Curtis Taete told how he was turned away by a nurse who explained, “Unfortunately, since you have had sexual contact with another male, that’s a deferral.” On the plus side, however, the action has sparked a national conversation and passionate support.

While gay men are being turned away because of outdated and senseless fears about tainted blood, patients who actually need the stuff are languishing. This week alone, blood shortages made headlines in Indiana, Nebraska and Massachusetts. In times of obvious need, preventing healthy, viable donors from givng blood is senseless and wasteful and utterly cruel. And as NYU Langone Medical Center head of Medical Ethics Art Caplan wrote for NBC News earlier this week, ”It is long past time to let those who want to help others by donating blood do so.”

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...