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Bad Blood: Politics Trumps Science in the Gay Blood Donation Debate

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In early 2002, I donated bone marrow only because I lied about having sex with men.

At the moment of my lie, a seven year old boy lay dying with Leukemia. As the chemo deployed to save his life destroyed his small body, I was at Vassar College being confronted for the first time at a blood drive by a cheery volunteer asking me if I had had sex with a man in the last 20 years. [Confession, I had.]

That question was unexpected, and as my friends all around me whizzed through the questions on to the chairs to donate, I thought what the hell, "No." Three months later I was informed I was a perfect match for a now seven year old boy that needed a bone marrow donation, or he would die.

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Great story. I don't see why they couldn't just run all the necessary tests to avoid diseases in situations like this. It's not about whether you had sex with a guy; there's a few other ways to be HIV positive.

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Old sore topic but one that merits periodic revisiting. Absolute madness, those questions, but I've stopped trying to change NIH's mind on the subject. Junk Science at its best.

I used to donate regularly once I became old enough but stopped, with a few exceptions like that above, when lies became part of the process. At this point, my own blood donation is moot thanks to health issues, but my valuable blood type was taken off the market for no good reason.

The exceptions were times when schools I taught at had blood drives and, to provide a good example for my students(!), I lied and donated. Last time was nearly ten years ago and the pre-donation vetting questions had become even more nosy and unnecessary.

Pride and Privacy are out of fashion in America.

TR :whistle:

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I'm a Lab Technician, and though I know the test, their windows, their incubation and antibody production periods, I did not know about this ridiculous rule, practice, or whatever they're calling this not only blatant discrimination but absolute hogwash.

There is as has been said, nothing about any of the tests that can promise we know anything about anybody but what the results show the day of testing, nor is there is any reason to let a child die when the data we have says clean after x amount of time of no high risk behavior has about as close to a promise as we're ever likely to get.

An environment that encourages honesty where no visible signs exist to contradict is the foundation of donation in the first place. That and the sense of Oneness that is the heart of such a human and vital contribution.

I know I shouldn't be surprised, but the NIH? :spank:

Thanks for the wake up. Time to do my homework.


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It isn't broadcast enough outside the gay community. This is old, old news.

The essence of the issue (refusing to pun here) may lie elsewhere.

The vetting of blood donors shouldn't be about behaviors, it should be about obtaining blood if the person is not underweight, ill or whatever. Meaning, right then and there.

Either way, for those things you can't determine right there (weight is determined with a scale, on the spot - a scientific observable reality), there are HIV tests and screens...performed AFTER the blood is collected and on all blood collected and stored these days. That was not the case when I began donating, so asking back then, for example, if a donor had had recent tattoos or surgeries, was perhaps reasonable. Perhaps.

Screen Blood Not Prejudically-Predicated 'Behaviors'

These days, all blood is required to be screened for a number of things before storage, including the Big One (in the minds of the general and generally uninformed hetero community) - HIV antibodies.

Since all blood is tested for this, ALL blood, there is no reason whatsoever to ask anything remotely masquerading as a search for 'risky behaviors' etc because (1) people lie (2) questions demonstrate an ignorance of HIV transmission far beneath even NIH's something-less-than-shining standard, (3) all blood is tested, sometimes repeatedly, before anyone receives it, (4) questions are so intense, numerous, invasive and often unrelated to real-life 'behaviors' that their existance as prerequisate cannot raise anything but disgust in a rational and unbiased person.

The questions' only purpose is to determine if the donor is GAY, nothing more.

Screen Blood, Not People.

Being gay is NOT a high-risk behavior for anything but liking members of the same sex.

The questions do not really ASK behaviors, anyway, which is interesting because almost all the behaviors asked or implied are enacted just as frequently by heterosexuals. They do not ask IF you are HIV+, which would be illegal even for them I imagine...and unnecessary as the post-AIDS-discovery-by-media late-80s HYSTERIA resulted in multiple testings FOR HIV antibodies - though curiously nothing close to a cure or vaccine for AIDS - long ago leaving us with an nearly insane madness for testing of blood or other donated tissues/organs to weed out any tainted with HIV antibodies.

Strange that so many other dangerous things are NOT also tested for, ah, but this could become a book...and a book already written by many other people, again and again.

What is not strange, though highly unethical immoral and insulting, is the long litany of questions about sex practices WITH ANOTHER MAN - not 'do you engage in safe sex', 'are you monogamous', 'do your sex practices even involve touching that OTHER MAN' or whatEVER, they simply exist to label a (rejected) donor as GAY and thus preclude his donating without lying.

The questions are NOT THE SAME FOR ALL DONORS OR EVEN FOR ALL MALE DONORS. Gay men are singled out for 'special treatment'...now what does that make you think of?

This all started with one question (have you had sex with another man in the last half year - asked circa...85? I can't recall what year) - but had, last time I donated (by lying), evolved into a seriously embarassing and ridiculous line of questioning about WHO you have sex with (over the last whatever, decade, twenty years, it's gotten ever more insane) not HOW you have sex. And again, only men and then gays and bisexuals are singled out from that group for additional questioning.

Women have a whole separate booklet of questions.

I would suggest that the majority of heterosexuals who are sexually active engage in extremely 'risky behaviors' fairly routinely, that heterosexuals are in deep denial about the 'lifestyle' of sexually active heterosexuals - themselves and their peers - and that heterosexuals have a completely unscientific distase, at least in public, for sexual practices generally considered, wrongly, as 'gay'.

There IS no 'gay sex', there is just SEX and who you have it with is not important.

If you want to ask stuff, which you should not, it might be minisculely more productive to ask if the donor (of any sex, of any claimed or presumed sexual orientation) had had sex with someone who was HIV+ in the last year, if the donor had had any unprotected fluid-exchange sex with ________ <fill in the blank, they'll prefer to ask ANOTHER MAN>.

All this serves NO public safety purpose.

It is counterproductive to public health because it significantly reduces donated blood intake and has done so for two decades. It is unAmerican in that it unconstitutionally marginalizes by public shaming and semi-private Inquisitions a segment of the citizenry...and potential donor pool.

It's not really so unAmerican when you remember that America, or at least a portion of NE America aka the '13 colonies', were founded/invaded by a batch of religious zealots no longer welcome in England, zealots who had a passion for defining an ever-changing all-important 'heresy', and then weeding out and burning the flavor of the week - 'heretic' loosely defined as 'outsider' and/or someone who isn't you or someone very like you.

It is not widely touted by NIH, like a lot of other truths, but prior to all this, gays of both sexes were far more likely to be regular blood donors than heterosexuals. Fact.

Some still are and an awful lot of heterosexuals owe their lives to that fact, to the fact that many will continue to donote while being actively humiliated and discouraged from donation.

I'll end this on a last observation, because this could ramble/rant on forever and is on record elsewhere ad naseum, that absolutely none of this tagges lesbians. No, not because they 'don't get AIDS', we won't go there and it doesn't matter because ANYone can get AIDS and even THAT doesn't matter because all donations are tested and retested.

The real, true hate that is considered polite to express in public - and against whom to invoke the gods of science - is for MALE homosexuals. Male homosexuals who have sex, who have a partner, who would like a partner, who are okay with those who partner or like members of the same sex and who are perhaps/probably a lot happier than the hets with blinders who bandy these bawdy topics about.

Which says a lot more about straights - in NIH and in the reading public - than it does about homosexuals, HIV antibodies or 'safety' concerns.

Straight people will take pride and prejudice over science any day...and in a heartbeat.

Possibly their own.

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Awesome commentary. And while the information and opinions may be elsewhere, I am here, and I appreciate that you are, too. :bunny:

It suddenly dawns on me that it's possible I didn't know this because I cannot donate. I have antibodies to 3 Hepatitis viruses, and by the time I was old enough to consent, I had already contracted Hep A while on vacation at a Holiday Inn. Duh.

The high risk behavior that is always foremost in my mind is IV drug use, and that was what I was thinking when I referred to visible signs.

And while I do not object to a very, very general screening of donors as one small and limited way of keeping the costs down (this testing is not cheap) and in the case of corporate blood drives, many people have expressed gratitude for the option of participating so as not to call attention to themselves, while being able to tell someone in private, Don't bother, that has very little to do with what you are talking about here.

You have covered all angles I could ever hope to think of, and I have to say I agree with you.

And I have long thought that the extent of the particular attention and reaction to male homosexuality has at least a portion of it's roots deep in the heart of misogyny, and the tendency to refer to male homosexuals in the same terms as those used to demean women supports this fact. There also seems to be a subtle element of betrayal that is peculiar and contradictory- haha, men prefering men could just as easily be viewed as supportive of superiority as it is as a threat. I am not at all implying that it is, just that the twisted thinking is, well, twisted. :spank:

Many thanks, TR.


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And I have long thought that the extent of the particular attention and reaction to male homosexuality has at least a portion of it's roots deep in the heart of misogyny, and the tendency to refer to male homosexuals in the same terms as those used to demean women supports this fact.

No question that this is true...and a truth about as popular as Bloody Mary at a teaparty.

Homophobia is predicated in misogyny, both of which are perpetrated & encouraged by men in public power overconcerned with their private manly powers. The worst sin is not to be a Real Man...a belief that killed, among others, Ernest Hemmingway and Joan of Arc.

:spank: TR

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TR wrote:

"Being gay is NOT a high-risk behavior for anything but liking members of the same sex."

To which I can only add, that they may also be at risk of being, very satisfied. :spank:

Thanks TR that was an awesome rant and whether or not it is available elsewhere, it needs to be stated again and again, until the stigma is removed from the blood donations. (I resisted the temptation to say stigmata.)

Some facts need to be constantly proclaimed, to confront the lies, and thus restore some degree of rational behaviour in the face of an inquisition masquerading as questions of public concern.

Thanks for keeping us alert to these issues, TR.


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until the stigma is removed from the blood donations. (I resisted the temptation to say stigmata.)


Kissey-face right backatcha, Des.

The urge to pun is a terrible vice.

If punning were fatal, we'd both be six feet under...but in most excellent company.

:spank: TR

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