Deepak Saini

by Ruby Comer

Photo by Audie Jeans Photography
BREAKING NEWS: The illustrious award-winning reporter, Ruby Comer, has turned the tables on TV news producer, Deepak Saini, and scores another memorable scoop.

The twenty-seven-year-old journalist, reporter, and anchor, Deepak Saini, who hails from San Jose, California, is currently burning the midnight oil (he reports to work at 11 p.m.) at CBS affiliate KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, South Dakota—brrr, that sounds cold! His show, KeloLand, airs from 5–7 in the morning. What a wretched hour for this old broad! Miss Ruby is no early bird. Lordie, when the sun starts to peek through my window, I grab my eye mask, curl up in bed, and scrunch my white goose-down comforter all around me. Leave me alone until 10 a.m. when those snappin’ bitches begin to peck at each other on The View!

On the personal side, Deepak’s family life consists of his partner of nearly three years, their two dogs, and their two teen girls whom they raise together—oy, not an easy task! Usually he leaves the studio around 9 a.m. but he’s made an exception for moi. On this blizzardy afternoon we huddle on the news set near the weather chart, with a portable heater nearby.

Ruby Comer: Gosh, I feel so at home on a set. [I scan the nearly deserted soundstage.] Diane Sawyer has nothing on this girl! All kidding aside, Deepak, when I say “AIDS,” what comes to your mind?
Deepak Saini:
Wow, when I was younger, the first words would have been “death sentence.” But today, the word that comes to mind is “hope.” It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come.

We have, but we’ve more work to do. How did you first hear about HIV/AIDS?
In the late eighties, while I was in elementary school, on the news I’d see images of gay men on their deathbeds. God, they looked awful. I also watched Oprah do a special on AIDS. Some of her guests’ angry comments scared the gay rights out of me! [He loosens his red-striped tie.]

[A peer walks by and greets Deepak as “Safeer”—pronounced “suh-fear.”] Where’d that name come from?!
[He smiles.] I love my parents to death but I’ve always hated my name, Deepak. For years I was bullied and teased by classmates with “deep-sack,” “diaper-rash,” “deep-crack”…you get the drift. As an adult, it still affects me, so I decided to change it. A while back, I was watching a Pakistani movie and the main character’s name was Safeer and I fell in love with it. My friends and family back home still call me Deepak, but, at work, it’s Safeer.

In all honesty, have you always used a condom while playing?
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but there was a time when I didn’t. Ah, the things you do when you’re young and in love. I was in college and thought my boyfriend was “the one,” so we had unprotected sex. Now, I would never take that risk. [His dramatic brown eyes look off in the distance for a second.] I know some men still bareback. I don’t understand that behavior. It’s like we [the gay community] came so far and now we’re going backwards.

I agree, toots. Have you broached the topic of HIV with your teens?
Thankfully, we’re an open family and we can talk about anything. At school the girls learn about the consequences of sex, but we feel certain lessons need to come from the mouths of parents. Some of their classmates have gotten pregnant and they see just how their young lives have been ruined by having to grow up fast. We can preach all we want but in the end we just hope they make the right decisions. Our oldest kid is now dating a boy, so not only does he have the [usual] fear of dealing with one father—in this family he’s got two.

That’s cute; poor boy! [I grin.] Has the epidemic had any impact on you?
I don’t personally know anyone living with AIDS, that I know of, but as a journalist, you can’t help but be touched by some of the stories you come across.

For instance?
When I was a reporter/anchor with KCWY in Casper, Wyoming, I interviewed a couple of doctors who regularly traveled to Africa to help with the AIDS epidemic there. They always snapped a lot of pictures of their trips, which depicted how grim the epidemic was there.

Anything else?
Let me tell you of a humiliating experience I had a couple years ago in Casper. A bunch of us reporters decided to donate blood for United Way. We got into the blood mobile and they took us each into separate rooms. One of the technicians tested my blood and she said it was perfectly healthy. Then she went down a list of questions. One was whether I had ever had sex with another man. I said I had. That was it. She started wrapping up our session and said I wasn’t eligible to donate.

I was confused and shocked. I asked her why I couldn’t donate even though she said my blood was healthy. She explained to me that the FDA has a policy that bans men who have sex with other men from donating blood because they’re in a high-risk group for spreading HIV. She printed out a sheet of paper with my name on it and said I couldn’t donate until the year 2085. I’ll be dead decades before that!

Holy cow. Well, how about other high-risk groups like teens or African-American women? This makes no sense.
I know. So now apparently I’m in some database and if I ever try to donate blood anywhere else, they’ll know I’m banned. [He pauses to reflect.] I felt such discrimination. I was upset, enraged, and carried it with me for months. Eventually I moved to Sioux Falls for my new reporting job at KDLT. I decided to look into the FDA’s policy banning gay men from donating blood and ended up doing a two-part series. I couldn’t get the FDA to talk with me. [He raises his eyebrows and purses his lips.] They just referred me to their Web site and I even had a hard time getting people in the medical field to talk to me. After all, in [conservative] places like these, people tend to shy away from such subjects. In the end, I got to do my story and it was amazing to me how few people knew such a ban exists. The FDA’s policy still exists!

I didn’t know that either. In 2011, it’s hard to believe. But, good job, Safeer, on the report! You ought to upload the segment to YouTube. I’m so glad there are people like you who aren’t afraid to make a rumble.
Ruby, this FDA policy is the most ridiculous rule on the planet. Based on one question a man can be banned from donating. But how easy is it to lie? Think about it, hundreds of thousands of closeted, down-low men can lie when they donate blood. It’s so easy when you’re down and out and need a few bucks to get by….

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]

April 2011