Dear FDA

"Lifting" the ban on gays is not progress—it's discrimination

by George M. Johnson

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blood_donation[dropcap]L[/dropcap]et me clear my throat for this one. For months I’ve been mulling over whether I wanted to write about this subject or if I was just going to move on and let live. Yet, weeks later this topic is still weighing heavy on my spirit, and like my grandmother says “when the spirit moves you, you better listen,” so here we go!

So back in December the FDA finally decided to lift its ban on gays donating blood or so the headlines would have had you to believe. From CNN to ABC World News Tonight, this landmark decision was viewed as one that was revolutionary and a step in the right direction of the civil rights of gay men across the country. Thankfully, my father always told me to never stop at the BIG WORDS on the page. Like I do with just about everything, I decided to peel back the label to this pill bottle and read the tiny print about this miracle decision.

The small print as I like to call it reads: “The FDA is changing its recommendation that men who have sex with men (MSM) be indefinitely deferred…to 12 months since the last sexual contact with another man.” This statement was then followed by: “We have taken great care to ensure this policy revision is backed by sound science and continues to protect our blood supply….” Okay, let me get some Windex out and clean my personality glasses to make sure that I just read that correctly.

So in a nutshell, we have reversed our decision from “all you gay, bisexuals, or men or have sex with men are banned” to “you gays, bisexuals, or men who have sex with men who have too much sex by our archaic standards that you shouldn’t be having sex more than once a year are banned.” This is what you call progress? This lifting of this ban, which has been in existence since 1983, during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, is what you really think pushes you all into a new era of understanding, and not discriminating against a group that could not only help your low blood supply levels but also be saving lives is called progress? Well frankly what you call progress I call discrimination and, at the end of the day, bullshit.

As a black gay man, I take offense to any policy that adversely affects a piece of my existence. Furthermore, I take offense that you are basically denying us the human right to be sexual beings if we choose to want to donate blood. Twelve months of no sex? Really FDA? I would love for us to take a poll of all the hetero folks at the FDA and see how many of them have abstained from sexual relations for over a year. Wait for it. Wait for it. Exactly. You are asking of us as gay men to do something the majority of the country would never be penalized for. Furthermore you stigmatize an entire population of people by perpetuating the stigma that we are highly likely to be testing HIV-positive.

Then you go on to say that your policy is backed by science. Really. You don’t say. As someone who works in the field with gay men on a daily basis, I can tell you first-hand that your science is a crockpot full of (run-on sentence full of expletives). Even living in D.C., the rate of infection in the black gay community of new diagnosis is somewhere around four percent of the total number of people tested each year. So for every 10,000 tests you are getting around 400 newly diagnosed cases. In the past five years, this number has decreased from year to year with a plan in place to have new cases totally eradicated by 2020. Science, you say? Well instead of science, I am going to work with you and discuss what makes sense.

So you already have rules, regulations, and standards in place that test the blood for a battery of viruses and conditions to ensure that it is not being transmitted through transfusion, right? So wouldn’t it make sense that when a person’s blood does test for HIV, that you notify the local Health Department in that person’s area to have them come in and test as a way to locate new positives who may not know that they are positive. Wouldn’t it make sense to join the battle against HIV and decreases the amount of the 1.1 MILLION PEOPLE unknowingly infected WHO ALSO HAPPEN TO BE HETEROSEXUAL! Or is it easier to just push the narrative that gay and bi men are the problem.

All this to say I won’t stand for what you call progress. I will not allow you to continue to discriminate against a population of people simply because of your homophobia and assimilation to society’s leper-like treatment of people who are HIV-positive, more so those who are more likely to contract the virus because of the community we are in. You can’t get blood from a rock, but you can definitely get it from a gay man.


 

George M. Johnson is an HIV advocate who works for Us Helping Us, People into Living located in Washington, D.C. He has written for Pride.com, Musedmagonline.com, Blavity.com, Rolereboot.org, and Ebony.com. Follow him on Twitter @IamGMJohnson.