The unseen prejudice of giving blood

Photo by Casey Gomez

This week, I was confronted with signs on Skiles walkway and by the Student Center alerting me to the Red Cross blood drive happening on campus. I have donated at Tech before, so I was interested, but I was unable to because of recent health issues. Because of this, I was able to consider the feelings of other people who have the desire to donate but cannot.

Despite the donation centers’ claims that they treat each of their donors fairly, there is still a stigma against LGBT+ people that prevents them from donating blood at their drives. This is not directly their fault. They are required by law to follow federal guidelines that detail the restrictions on who can and cannot donate blood.

For starters, men who have had sex with other men are disallowed from donating. Women who have had sex with men who have possibly been intimate with other men are also not allowed to donate. Rules are generally crafted for a reason, so here’s the rationale:  People who have anal sex are statistically more likely to contract HIV. I won’t get into the specifics of this; I assume you have Google and know how sex works. However, what I will explain is why these restrictions are problematic.

As we all know from our middle school health classes, anyone can contract HIV if they are sexually active, so why are we specifically refusing healthy gay and bisexual adults from donating blood and not all people who are sexually active? If blood is being processed and tested anyway, why do we not even allow LGBT+ people to have the chance to donate?

For years, LGBT+ people have fought to earn the right to donate blood. If there are healthy individuals ready and willing to donate something as essential to life as blood, why would we deny them this opportunity? After the Pulse nightclub shooting, the LGBT+ community of Orlando came together to send support to the families and friends of their fallen members. Though they were able to raise money and show their love, they were unable to give blood to people who were injured in the shooting despite the urgency of the situation.

There is always a possibility for infected blood to slip through the cracks with any virus. Instead of banning an entire group of people who are willing to donate, though, why don’t we implement better, more accurate mechanisms to be able to provide healthy blood to those who need transfusions?

Additionally, this is not just a health issue. Many donation centers would like for LGBT+ people to donate blood, but the regulations are holding them back. The problem is not the risk, the problem is prejudice. Gay people are not “dirtier” or “riskier” because of their sexual habits; that is false rhetoric crafted by those who want to keep gay people out of sight and out of mind. But when we have crises where blood is needed, we cannot prevent any viable donors from potentially saving lives. It is so important to deconstruct stigma, not just because they can save our lives, but because they are people too. They deserve the same chances, respect and trust that all other people do.

Healthy individuals, no matter their sexual orientation or history of intimacy, should be able to give blood. This simple act of kindness is integral to preventing loss of life. Let gay people give blood. Use technology to make sure donated blood is safe to use, do not use discrimination as a tool for a process that is being completed anyway. Take out the pointed, discriminatory questions in the surveys before the donation.

If we can choose to have the chance to save a life, why don’t we do so? Put aside your differences and come together to help other people. Human life is more important than the prejudices we hold, so it is time to enact change to improve the system that could one day affect each and every one of us.