Ward: Ban on blood donations from gay men should be lifted in 2015

Madison Ward

I would say, without question, that 2014 was the beginning of the gay rights overhaul in America. It started June 1, 2014, with the legalization of gay marriage in Illinois following the passing of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act and sparked a domino effect through 17 more states in the following weeks. In total, 2014 brought the number of states that had legalized gay marriage to 35, making this a landmark year for gay rights.

Toward the end of 2014, it looked as if there would be another addition to the list of new gay rights with the lifting of the ban on blood donations from gay men, which was set in place by the FDA in 1983. That year also coincided with the epidemic of HIV and AIDS, which was coursing through the country. The FDA modified the ban in 1992 when more accurate HIV tests became available.

Nearly 22 years later, on Dec. 23, 2014, the FDA again addressed the issues with the ban by announcing that they planned to dismiss the policy because of the obvious discrimination that it possessed. However, they didn’t actually kick the ban to the curb. Instead of throwing out the policy entirely, it was simply modified to exclude gay or bisexual men who have been in sexual contact with another man in the last 12 months.

If you think about it, even though there appears to be a positive change to the embargo, there really wasn’t any change at all. In the last year alone, 17 states made it legal for same-sex couples to be legally married. And just as it is important for heterosexual couples to maintain a physical relationship, same sex couples need that kind of connection too.

So to say that a gay man, who has the option to get married, must abstain from sex for a year because of the possibility he might have HIV is, in no way less of a discriminatory act that the initial ban.

If you consider the time in history when this ban was initially put into place, it was a logical move, given the medical concerns that had arisen. It was the ’80s and the HIV and AIDS was still a new disease. It was controversial, given that people were not nearly as accepting of homosexual relationships as we are today and the idea to prevent the spreading of this mysterious disease was valid. But that was over 30 years ago.

Since, HIV and AIDS was initially brought to the public eye, we have traveled leaps and bounds, both scientifically and socially. A Gallup Poll conducted in 2014 showed that 55 percent of Americans support gay marriage and relationships. Although it’s not the most optimal number in my opinion-given this day and age, it is a huge step in the right direction. In terms of scientific advancement, it looks like a cure may be on the horizon.

At the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston on March 3 to 6 in 2014, Professor Salim S. Abdool Karim, director of the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa and chairman of UNAIDS Scientific Expert Panel announced that some neutralizing antibodies have been identified and they have proven to provide prevention and treatment to infected monkeys. The next step will be to determine how they impact human cells.

In addition to a potential cure, both at-home and laboratory tests have been finely honed to produce accurate readings in a relatively short amount of time. It is very important to mention the accuracy of these tests because every blood donation is given these tests to ensure there isn’t any infection down the line. Every single donation is tested regardless of sexual orientation. This being said, shouldn’t anyone be able to give blood? If the donations are going to be tested anyway for insurance, and the donors have filled out a form claiming they know they are HIV negative, why should they have to be turned away? According to a year-long health study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in 2013, 1.6 percent of the 34,557 people — gender was not given — polled identified as gay and 0.7 percent as bisexual. If you do the math, out of that group alone, that would be about 795 people who would be disqualified as blood donors simply because there is a slim chance they could carry the disease.

With the technology available today and blood banks’ constant pleas for more donors, there is no reason this ban should still be in place. 2014 made great headway for equality, and I think we should push for 2015 to follow suit by ending this decade-long discriminatory ban.