In early winter of 2010, South Puget Sound Community College’s Senator for Administrative Affairs, Matthew Shrader, informed the senate about the current law set in place by the FDA which bans “men who have sex with men (MSM)” from donating blood. After being “politely rejected” by the Puget Sound Blood Center for being a gay male, Shrader heard this of law for the first time.
“I was shocked,” he said.
Many countries put restrictions on who can donate blood based on identity and sexual history. In this country, gay identified males (who have had sex with another man since 1977) are not allowed to donate blood. The FDA put this law in place because of the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS within the gay community. According to the FDA’s website, “men who have had sex with men since 1977 have an HIV prevalence 60 times higher than the general population.”
Because HIV/AIDS had such high prevalence in the gay community, AIDS used to be called GRID, which stood for Gay Related Immune Deficiency at the beginning of the pandemic. HIV was thought to be only homosexually transmitted, but it is now known that the virus does not discriminate. It can also be passed through birth canals, breast milk, blood, and heterosexual sexual contact.
With HIV transmission, there is a what is called “the window period” which ranges from three weeks to three months between risky behavior (when HIV could be transmitted) and when an accurate test would come back with a true “negative.” According to the FDA, this law works because about one out of 1 million blood donations are infected and uncaught.
Refusing blood from the highest-risk group of people, they say, will help reduce the number of infected donations. Shrader said he does not believe the “window period argument” is valid; there is a steady decrease in MSM transmission numbers and this law is not consistent enough to be kept.
“I know plenty of heterosexuals who don’t practice safe sex, and plenty of gay men that do,” he said. “I know I’m safe.”
According to Nik Steele, Vice President for Administration and Finance, the Student Senate shared their full support of a petition proposal to bar this law. The petition soon became a project of SPSCC’s Queer-Staright Alliance (QSA), of which Shrader is a member.
The Senate composed a resolution which was signed by all members, and the petition already has over 200 signatures, Shrader said. The QSA is hoping for 500-1,000 signatures before May 15, when it will be sent before the FDA’s next convening for policy renewal, and will also be sent to President Obama, and Washington State Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. The petition is available for signing in the Student Union Building Monday- Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Members of the QSA will also be going around campus to get additional signatures. The petition will extend to the Capital City Pride event in June as a separate, city-wide petition instead of campus-wide.
The Puget Sound Blood Center also reviewed the resolution and approved, according to Shrader. Their only hope would is that there be no petitioning on blood donation day because a lot of people are unaware of this law and are outraged when they find out. Shrader understood completely.
“We’re not donation-haters,” Shrader said. “That’s why we’re doing this. We need our straight allies.”
The resolution acknowledged SPSCC’s full support of the abolishment of the law and stated that their priority was to remove its inherent discrimination to make a larger donation pool for blood banks, Shrader said.
“In 1983, this was the right policy… But it’s 2011.”