My Experience With the Gay Blood Ban

by | Jul 9, 2020 | Features, Politics | 1 comment

In March of this year, my family and I tested positive for the Coronavirus. We had the frightening experience of realizing COVID-19 was actually causing our flu-like symptoms, and we were not suffering from a common cold. My parents, both my sisters and their husbands, were added to the growing number of those diagnosed with the Coronavirus. It was surreal to be some of the first people diagnosed with the virus in our state, let alone the country.

Each of us for the next two weeks had fevers and felt incredibly weak. We also lost our sense of taste. Luckily, nothing worse happened. Every morning I woke up without my parents or my sisters taking a turn for the worse, was a blessing. Eventually, the symptoms faded, and so did the shadow of potentially having to use an overtaxed and overburdened healthcare system. Employees at North Carolina’s public health department kept in contact with us, and when we were three days without symptoms, we were declared fully recovered.

While we were enjoying getting our strength back, we started to consider ways we could give back and help others who were having a harder time fighting off the virus. One way we realized we could help was by donating our plasma. Scientists are hopeful that the antibodies in someone’s blood who has recovered from the Coronavirus can be used to treat patients who are struggling with the disease. One recovered person’s blood can be used to treat four people who are struggling in a life or death battle with the virus. 

Everyone in my family was eager to donate their blood to those who were in desperate need. We let UNC Hospital know that we were all willing to donate and to tell us where to go and what to do. Soon everyone in my family got a call about setting up a time to donate. I too got the same call. I told the woman from UNC Hospital that yes, I was willing to donate, but that I had one issue. I am perfectly healthy and have nothing preventing me from donating, except that I am gay. I knew there were restrictions on gay men giving blood, but I was not sure if that was the case for donating plasma for antibodies. The woman from UNC Hospital told me she needed to speak with her supervisor and get back to me. Five minutes after we hung up, she called me again. She told me that her supervisor said I could not donate.  

Due to my sexual orientation, I was not able to potentially save four people’s lives. Most people do not realize this regulation against gay men giving blood exists. The restriction was put in place during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic when the disease was little understood. The prohibition has remained in place even though HIV/AIDS is not a disease only gay men have, and everyone’s donation is tested for diseases that could be transferred through a blood transfusion. The fact that everyone’s blood is tested means that I have no more risk of transferring a disease than anyone else.  

Congress changed the law requiring gay men to abstain from having sex from one year to three months. This is an improvement, but it is not good enough. The sooner someone who has recovered from the Coronavirus donates, the more antibodies their blood will have. Just as in so many aspects of this crisis, time is of the essence, and delaying a healthy person from donating his blood for three months will cost people their lives.   This ban did not make sense in the best of times, and certainty needs to be repealed during this crisis. People of all political beliefs need to find areas of agreement where they can work together to lessen the severity and length of this pandemic. Repealing this antiquated and outdated ban is a simple policy reform that can help us fight this disease. The government needs to do everything possible to advance scientific research so we can start providing therapies that actually save the sickest Coronavirus patients. If we repeal the gay blood ban, we can take one obvious and easy step towards defeating this virus by letting everyone who can contribute in the fight against this terrible disease do their part. 

1 Comment

  1. Keith Wilson

    Oh, stop whining. There are a whole lot of people who, by no fault of their own, are not allowed to donate blood, many of whom are likely very safe donors. In fact, only 37% of the population is estimated to be eligible to donate at any one time. Don’t think that you’re more special than the other 63% who can’t. I had surgery for prostate cancer (cured) one year ago and I won’t be able to donate for at least another year. And I’m not crying about how “unfair” it is that I can’t save lives (no risk exists of cancer transmission through blood.)

    Regardless, your essay is chock full of falsehoods. No one is denied as a donor because of their “sexual orientation.” That question is not even asked. The only thing that determined suitability to donate is the existence of high risk behavior – that’s it. That means a homosexual man who has been abstinent for a specified period of time, STILL a “gay man,” is able to donate. So your assertion is blatantly false. Or, are you saying that no homosexual men are abstinent? Or that a straight man who had gay sex during a drunken party a month ago is somehow still qualified?

    Another falsehood is that you claim most people are not aware of this restriction. You really need to get out more, as this has been the case for several decades, and virtually EVERYONE, especially those who are blood donors, knows this, unless you were raised under a rock. It’s more likely the case that most people don’t realize that this long-held restriction has been recently RELAXED to allow homosexual men to donate, if they meet other requirements.

    Your hurt feelings don’t justify even a slim chance of making the blood supply less safe. You are completely glossing over the facts that:
    – HIV has a “window period” after infection during which the virus cannot be detected by even very sensitive tests.
    – HIV is still endemic in the gay male community, by miles. The second most common vector of transmission is a full HALF that of homosexual behavior. This is a very high-risk group, by any estimate. Yes, even today.
    – Being on PrEP does not remove you from being in a high-risk group. You are on PrEP exactly BECAUSE you are a member of a high-risk group.
    – So far, since the lifting of the lifetime ban to one year since last same-sex encounter, there HAS been an increase of donors testing positive for HIV, although small. That small increase resulted even though the one-year ban qualified admittedly few new gay men as donors. The full effect of shortening the ban to only 3 months, like many other risk factors that are culpable, is yet unknown but is almost certain to result in MORE HIV-positive men donating blood, and more high risk men donating means that there are likely more men donating who are in the undetectable infection stage, putting many people at a greater risk of infection.

    You do NOT have some imagined “right” to donate blood.

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