Homosexual student barred from giving blood

Beena Raghavendran | Staff Writer

Homosexual students are being denied the opportunity to give blood.
As the December 8 blood drive approaches, one homosexual MHS student is reminded of when Hoxworth Blood Center did not permit him to donate blood in last year’s final blood drive because of its rule barring gay men from giving blood.

Former MHS student and current School of Creative and Performing Arts sophomore Mason Howell said his friend, the deferred student, answered the donation form honestly and was then denied the chance to give blood.

“Everyone has to fill out a questionnaire,” Howell said. “[The official] told him that he wasn’t allowed to give blood because he answered [that he had had sexual contact with a man].”

Of the 1,009,219 adult and adolescent cases of AIDS in 2007, eighty percent were in males; of the 80 percent, 60 percent were because of male-to-male sexual contact, according to the 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention HIV/AIDS factsheet. This higher risk of HIV/AIDS for homosexual men is the reason they cannot donate blood, according to Hoxworth Blood Official Gail Schaffer.

Hoxworth Blood Official Rebecca Davis said the reason to deny homosexual men the right to give blood is because of the likeliness that they will continue to make the same sexual choices throughout their lives.

“[We] have to assume that if they’re having male-to-male sex, the probability is that they’d continue with that lifestyle, so they would always be at high risk,” Davis said.

Unlike some potential donors, who lie to donate blood, Howell said his friend was completely honest about his sexual orientation.

“[He] answered truthfully,” Howell said. “He’s not afraid of who he is.”

Not truthfully answering the initial survey is dangerous for recipients, according to Schaffer: because the AIDS test can’t be trusted yet, Schaffer said a lie risks giving infected blood to a potentially weak immune system — a deadly combination.

“The AIDS test right now isn’t fool-proof,” Schaffer said. “There’s a window where a person can be HIV positive, but the test will be negative.”

Howell said his friend was disappointed that he couldn’t donate.

“He was kind of upset about it,” Howell said. “He’s a sweet person and just wanted to help.”

Schaffer said this kind of deferral of patients is out of the blood center’s hands, and that the center doesn’t try to hurt or embarrass potential donors.

“It’s federal law — do it their way or shut down,” Schaffer said. “Even if [the potential donor] is with the same partner for his whole life, [it’s still a deferral].”

But federal law is starting to be challenged. In August 2009, the Assembly Judiciary Committee in California passed the U.S. Blood Donor Nondiscrimination Resolution, asking the federal government to lift the ban on gay men giving blood. The AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks) and the American Red Cross said they are advocates of removing this ban as well.

“It does not appear rational to broadly differentiate sexual transmission via male-to-male sexual activity from that via heterosexual activity on scientific grounds,” the AABB and the American Red Cross said. “To many, [the ban] is unfair and discriminatory, resulting in negative attitudes to blood donor eligibility criteria.”

Howell said he thinks the blood restriction is built on a stereotype of fear.

“It’s probably fear of judgement,” Howell said. “[Like how] people think being gay is contagious, which is not true at all.”

Sophomore Jimena Esparza said she thinks this law is discriminatory and needs to be abolished.

“It’s like discriminating [against] them, [or] saying, ‘You can’t give blood because [of your race],’” Esparza said.

Senior Eric Severson said he thinks that this discrimination against homosexuals is just a continuation of society’s reaction to gays over time.

“People are still ignorant and they don’t respect [others], believing that people aren’t equal to one another,” Severson said.

Junior Kevin Wermuth said he is shocked at laws like the homosexual blood donation ban that define this generation’s response to homosexuality. According to Wermuth, today’s restrictions are absurd and should have ended years ago.

“I was born in the [1990s],” Wermuth said. “This is the new generation.”

Wermuth said restrictions on volunteering like the law prohibiting homosexual blood donation go against natural rights.

“Equality is supposed to be everything,” Wermuth said. “When I hear the Pledge [of Allegiance] every morning [and] I hear, ‘Justice for all,’ I honestly don’t believe it.”

Howell said that beyond these restrictions, he thinks society should erase the invisible lines between heterosexuals and homosexuals.

“In cities, you have the gay part of the city and the straight part of the city, [but] there should just be the city,” Howell said. “All of us joined together as one.”

As for what should happen with the law, Howell said he is certain the homosexual blood ban should be lifted.

“Let gay people give blood,” Howell said. “[There are] blood shortages and there [are] gay people out there willing to give blood.”

Junior Chay Ruby said he is optimistic: looking past today’s laws, he said he thinks that students are more accepting in 2009 than they were twenty years ago.

“It’s more okay to be out now,” Ruby said. “As more generations and new ideas come [and homosexuals] fight more [for equality], it’ll get better.”

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