|by Bill Sievert|
|Donor Policy Is a Bloody Shame
Across a park from my window, I gaze at the giant lettering on what at first appears to be a soft-drink distributor's vehicle. The "Big Red Bus," it says, and "Heroes enter here." The intent is not to peddle refreshment to passersby but to beg for donations of a most precious liquidexcept not from me, not from many of us who read these pages.
The bloodmobile won't allow me to become a hero because I have had sexual contact with another maleon at least one occasion in the past 30 years. No exception for a long-term relationship, no pass for guys who have been dateless for decades. The only way around the rule is to lie, and even then a liar may find himself on a list of the banished if he has ever applied to give blood before.
This counterproductive (to the blood banks) form of discrimination has irked me for quite some time. Like you, I constantly hear cries from the Red Cross and other public agencies that blood reserves are at dangerously low levels and everyone should step up to the platelet center. I would be happy to do my part to help. Feel free to test my blood for measles, mumps, malaria, HIV and anything else you believe might serve the public health (just as you do with heterosexuals, a fair number of whom carry blood-borne diseases like some gay guys do.) But stop banning me for life, which is precisely the status awarded to all men who won't swear that they have remained completely male-to-male sexless since 1977.
When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's rejected-forever policy was enacted way back in 1983, it may have been defensible as a means of preventing the spread of HIV through transfusions. But a quarter century has passed, and medical science has come far. Today's testing can detect HIV-positive donors within 10- to 21-days of infection, making a lifetime ban not only unnecessary but downright ridiculous.
After gazing out my glass window for some time at the "Big Red Bus," which appears to be luring no heroes this particular afternoon, I turn my attention to my desktop Windows. I begin surfing to find out whether any efforts are underway to end the ban. It isn't long before my blood begins to boil.
It turns out that the major plasma-gathering organizations have been campaigning for the past two years to end the ban but the FDA continues to stand in the way. The agency has continued to reaffirm its blood policy, despite criticism by the Red Cross and other blood groups that it is "medically and scientifically unwarranted."
Two years ago the Red Cross, America's Blood Centers and the international blood association AABB proposed replacing the lifetime ban with a one-year deferral following male-to-male sexual contact. That would be a small step forward even though it still excludes most of us with long-term partners. But the FDA's response was and continues to be that it won't change its policy one iota until it receives reliable data that doing so won't pose a "significant and preventable" risk to blood recipients.
Not that the FDA would be able to process such data, which the blood groups say they have attempted to provide. As you may have heard, the FDA recently declared its staff overwhelmed and no longer able to adequately protect the nation's food and drug supply.
Apparently, one of the few things the FDA can still manage to handle is diminishment of the nation's blood supply by blacklistingor it might better be described as "red-listing"a huge group of healthy males.
Dr. Celso Bianco, executive vice president of America's Blood Centers, whose members generate nearly half the nation's blood supply, has said he is "disappointed" about the refusal of the FDA to change its policyeven in light of a great deal of information provided by the various national organizations. Even the FDA acknowledges that today's "highly sensitive" tests fail to detect less than one in a million HIV-infected donors.
Meanwhile, the bloody shame continues to have consequences in communities throughout the nation. In Washington state, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently reported that the Puget Sound Blood Center's reserves have fallen to emergency levels this winter, and gay organizations are pointing to a significant reason: About six percent of those who have volunteered to give bloodincluding nearly 24,000 gay and bisexual maleshave been placed on the local "permanent deferral" list.
Nationwide, estimates are that at least 1-million men have been denied the opportunity to donate blood because of the ban.
Perhaps, as gay people so often have been forced to do in discriminatory situations, we should create our own institutionsin this case clandestine banks that accept blood exclusively from and provide it only to men who sign an affidavit affirming that they have had sex at least once with another male. As overwhelmed as the poor FDA purports to be, its honchos probably will take a long time to discover our Rainbow Plasma Centers. In the meantime, if I'm ever in need of a life-saving transfusion, I'll be happy to accept a pint or three from my gay blood brothers.
Speaking of seeing red, here's something offered in a more lighthearted "vein" for this Valentines month of February. For the second consecutive year, John and I have been enjoying our copy of filmmaker John Waters' Valentine to his fans, a CD compilation of some of his favorite quirky songs of romance. It's called A Date with John Waters, and the must-have album includes incredibly amusing numbers, including "Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun" by Mink Stole and "Big Girls Don't Cry" by the late great Edith Massey. Also featured are several pretty pop standards, among them Dean Martin's "Hit the Road to Dreamland" and Earl Grant's "Imitation of Life."
Most enjoyable to John and me are the specifically gay songs: "Johnny Are You Queer?" by Josie Cotton is a Go-Gos-style joyride, and "Jet Boy Jet Girl" by Elton Motello is a punk-powered lyrical hoot. Listening to those tunes has prompted me to start thinking about other pop songs with expressly GLBT-themed lyrics, especially numbers that have gained attention beyond our own community. One of the earliest I can remember is The Kinks' classic "Lola," and I'll never forget Rod Stewart's poignant "The Killing of Georgie." Everyday another title comes to mind. But that's a subject for a later column. In the meantime, feel free to email me with any song titles you'd like to see included on a list of The Best Gay Songs Ever.
Bill Sievert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 01 February 08, 2008