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Light-headed, weak-kneed: Both the man and the ban

by Jeremy Hooper

"I passed out. On my God, I can't believe I just passed out! In front of him, her, that guy, this kid -- they all saw me do it!

Okay, just breathe. Gotta play it off. Gotta keep it cool. Gotta be tough!"

By the time I was seventeen, I'd fully accepted that I was gay. I wasn't even scared of liking boys anymore. I wasn't fearful of Hooper-17embracing LGBT rights either. But in my small Tennessee town, I was certainly still scared of anyone knowing that I liked the dude set. I had to keep playing the "macho" game. For just a little bit longer. Until college's larger, hopefully greener pastures gave me the open field onto which I could fully, finally take my first steps. My first true steps.

So when I was the first guy -- THE. FIRST. GUY! -- to pass out after contributing to my high school's blood drive, my concerns were less about whether I'd hit my head on the way down or suffer any further physical damage on the way back up. My fears were all about the image: Vain before vein. The questions: Would I look weak? "Girly"? Would I seem: Gay? There, in that ROTC room that had been converted into a one-day blood bank, I had reason to believe that "looking gay" would be seen as a social faux pas. I, just a few weeks short of graduation's sweet release, didn't have enough mettle or fortitude or bullshit armor to be my school's pioneer.

Little did I even consider (or possibly even fully realize) the other issues that my homosexuality posed to that day's situation. Because yes, it's true that at that point, my nascent sex life had been confined to the gender that was unnatural to me. However, my desires had always been geared to the boys who were a natural fit. And had I had the chance or opportunity to have acted on those desires, even once, then it's not only my physical being that my blood would've been collapsing on that Spring of '97 day. My admission of active gayness would not only have made me my school's trailblazing Harvey Milk-with-pizza (really, school lunch programs?!?) -- my admission would've instead been conking out my sheer ability to even be in the donation room. Because while I feared that being openly gay would've led to pariahdom in the hallways, the tangible truth is that my open, active sexuality would've led to government-sanctioned exclusion in the applicant pool!!!! A truth with the power to damage more than just teen psyches.

But today, I, Jeremy, am of course so out and proudly gay that an open book of neon signs would seem a little too shrouded in comparison. In fact, I was that way just about two years after that fateful senior year fainting. And you know what's funny about most all of those past people who I'd feared finding me out? That 99% of them have been completely accepting of who and what I am. They've grown. I've grown. Some of them may not fully support some of my rights or fights (or even at all), but most do know that I'm nothing to fear. They know that I'm not tainted. They know that scientific community has advanced to place of understanding, and have removed many of their own prejudices as their information has increased. It makes me wonder if my teen self could've made a difference, had I had enough resilience to try.

Yet on the flip side: The blood ban, not anthropomorphized in a way that allows for post-high school Facebooking, has seen much less advancement. In fact: The unwarranted prejudice is just as much in place as it was back in the day. And that is wrong. It makes me wonder if my adult self can make a difference, now that I have enough resilience to try.

This is why today, Good As You is participating in a blogswarm with AMERICABlog, AKAWilliam.com, Bilerico Project, Blabbeando, Change.org, DailyKos, David Badash, Firedoglake-The Seminal, Joe Mirabella, LGBTPOV, Mike Signorile, OpenLeft and Rod 2.0. We, as a coalition, are asking you to submit public comment in support of revising the discriminatory and medically unwarranted FDA lifetime ban on blood donations from any man who's had sex with another man (MSM) since the time when the first Star Wars was on the big screen (1977).

So I will now pass it over to G-A-Y (and personal) pal Adam Bink, who has spearheaded this righteous cause. Check out what he has to say over on his home, Open Left. Get the facts and then follow his instructions for involvement:

Today, the HHS Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability is kicking off a two-day meeting to reconsider the FDA ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men (MSM). The current policy has been in place since 1985 when no HIV testing was available and little was known about HIV/AIDS. Since then, while many policies towards blood donations have changed, and HIV testing has significantly advanced to the point where a permanent ban no longer makes sense, the ban still remains in place. The ban is also discriminatory in that it unfairly targets gay and bisexual men because it does not distinguish between high-risk and low-risk MSM, banning potential MSM donors who are HIV-negative and consistently practice safe sex or are in long-term monogamous relationships, while others with a significantly higher risk of HIV infection are subject to less restrictive deferrals or none at all. The ban also contributes to a dangerously and chronically low blood supply in a country in which approximately just 5% of all eligible donors give.

The NYC and DC City Councils have recently passed resolutions by votes of
42-1 and 13-0, respectively, urging a revision of the ban. Today, we are asking that you join their voices in calling for a more sensible policy.

Dr. Jerry Holmberg is the Executive Secretary of the Advisory Committee, and is tasked with accepting formal public comments from both organizations and individuals. He has made his e-mail available for this purpose. Please take a minute to e-mail Dr. Holmberg via [email protected] and urge him and the committee to revise the ban on blood donations from MSM.

In writing the note, you can use the facts we have listed below, a form letter we've put together at the bottom of this list post that summarizes the rationale for ending the ban, a personal note- or all of the above! These public comment periods exist because good government means advocates should have a chance to weigh in. Now's our chance to demonstrate that members of the public support sound science, non-discrimination, and a healthier America.

Please take a minute to tell Dr. Holmberg and the Committee that you support these principles by sending an e-mail to [email protected]. Urge a revision of the policy that incorporates sound medical, scientific, and non-discriminatory guidelines.

The additional reasons you can cite are below.

-Newer tests have shortened the window period in which HIV is undetectable to between 9 and 11 days. A permanent, lifetime ban is outdated and no longer makes sense.

-The U.S. blood supply is frequently at critically low levels. Less than 5% of all eligible donors give, while donation recipients include mothers delivering babies, trauma victims, cancer patients, transplant patients and others. The respected Williams Institute
estimates that lifting the ban would result in an estimated 130,150 additional donors who are likely to donate 219,000 additional pints of blood each year, while shortening deferral to one year would result in 53,269 additional men who are likely to donate 89,716 pints each year.

-The ban is a form of discrimination by unfairly targeting men who have sex with men, or effectively the gay and bisexual community. A permanent, blanket ban is instituted on any male who has had sex with another male
even once since 1977 and without regard for partner's HIV status nor for frequency, safe sex practices, or duration since. Yet if one has sex with an opposite-sex partner who is knowingly HIV-positive, he or she can give again in a year. This is discrimination and it is wrong.

-Other countries like Australia, Japan, Sweden and Russia have either revised or completely lifted the deferral period, while Italy, Spain and France screen donors based on risk rather than a blanket ban on a community.

-The American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, American Association of Blood Banks, American Medical Association, and a
coalition of nearly fifty other organizations all support a revision of the ban.

You can use these reasons in combination with your own personal ones, or the form letter below. Please submit a public comment via [email protected], and urge that the ban be revised to improve the nation's health, meet sound scientific practices, and eliminate discrimination. Thanks for helping improve the nation's health and eliminating another form of discrimination.

Here is a letter summarizing the scientific and social reasons for revising the ban for your convenience. Feel free to copy and paste into an e-mail:

Jerry A. Holmberg, PhD
Executive Secretary
Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability
Office of Public Health and Science
Department of Health and Human Services
1101 Wooton Parkway, Suite 250
Rockville, MD 20852

June 10, 2010

Dear Dr. Holmberg,

I am pleased that the Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability (ACBSA) is planning to review the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) decades-long ban on blood donation by any man who has had sex with another man since 1977. I strongly urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review its policy prohibiting gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood.

The FDA's current blood donor eligibility policies are largely inconsistent, imposing significantly less restrictive deferrals to heterosexual men and women who engage in high-risk sexual behavior, yet banning gay and bisexual men who are HIV-negative, consistently practice safe sex, or are in monogamous, long-term relationships. This policy reinforces inaccurate stereotypes about gay men and HIV, and results in a significant loss of healthy blood donors.

The advent of new HIV testing technologies, which can detect HIV directly and has a window period of only 9-11 days after infection, has provided scientific and technological reasons to reconsider the policy. In the face of chronic blood shortages in the nation's blood supply, the unnecessary exclusion of large numbers of HIV-negative blood donors may harm patients in need of blood transfusions.

I join a growing consensus of voices who have called for reform of the FDA's donor eligibility policy. Many public health experts, the American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks, America's Blood Centers, and others have supported reforming the policy. Additionally, 18 U.S. Senators, as well as U.S. Representatives, have recently sent letters to the FDA calling for the long-standing policy's review and modification.

It is both timely and necessary that an exhaustive review of alternative policies is conducted. I encourage Health and Human Services (HHS) and the FDA to act quickly to address our mutual concern for expanding the blood donor pool and ensuring the safety and adequacy of our nation's blood supply.


Blogswarm: Revise the Ban [Open Left]

End the Ban on MSM Blood Donations [Change.org]

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