|See upcoming advocacy events at Center Calendar: Advocacy|
Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood
On Tuesday, April 13, 2010 the Center joined GMHC, the Latino Commission on AIDS and other organizations to add its voice to the growing movement to end the ban on gay men donating blood. The following is the testimony delivered by Andres Hoyos, Associate Director of Center CARE Wellness at the hearing held by the New York City Council’s Committee on Health for Resolution 80, calling upon the “United States Food and Drug Administration to reverse their longstanding prohibition on homosexual men donating blood.” The following is Andres’ testimony:
IntroductionI am Andres Hoyos, a gay Latino immigrant and social worker and for over 20-years my practice has focused on the mental health needs of gay men. I am currently the Associate Director of Center CARE Wellness at the Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Community Center where I have worked for the past seven years.
Current situation and challengesCurrent United States policy permanently excludes gay and bisexual men from donating blood, regardless of their level of HIV risk. However, their heterosexual counterparts are deferred from donating blood for a year if they are participating in higher risk behaviors, such as having unprotected anal or vaginal sex with a HIV-positive partner.
The context for this policy has changed significantly in the 25-years since its implementation. Importantly, technology for testing has reduced the window period for detection of HIV infection to less than two-weeks.
Sexual orientation or the gender of the persons involved in sexual encounters does not determine the risk for HIV transmission, nor do these factors risk our blood supply. We should take this opportunity to emphasize and assess the level of risk for HIV transmission individually, rather than focusing on identity-based factors. An extended focus on identity, rather than actual risk could be used to extend the blood donation ban to other groups with higher HIV-seroprevalence, including communities of color, women, children and people living in poverty.
Community impactOne of the painful lessons learned at the onset of the HIV epidemic in the 1980’s was the stigmatization of groups who were often already disempowered and marginalized by focusing on identity rather than actual risk. This has a negative impact in the subpopulation of focus and our culture at large. It also contributes to stigmatization that is associated with increased discrimination and the potential of violence.
Even though the FDA blood donation ban is not intentionally discriminatory, its impact is. Applying the blood donation ban indiscriminately to gay men, regardless of actual risk, and not other groups with elevated HIV-risk, is harmful. It is harmful to gay men and it is harmful to our nation’s blood supply. The blood donation ban prevents gay and bisexual men from participating in a vital process of community building or what could be called cultural citizenship. This also sends an implicit stigmatizing message that gay and bisexual men are “damaged goods,” “second class,” “less than,” “other,” “diseased,” and inherently contagious.
Paradoxically, it was this gay community – the same community that the FDA’s policy implies is not good enough to ever donate blood – that first rallied to support those living with HIV and AIDS. This is the same gay community that has fought and struggled for nearly 30-years for services and effective prevention, diagnostic and treatment methods.
This sends the wrong message to the our gay community. While trying to encourage gay and bisexual men to periodically test for HIV, to reduce their risk and remain connected with the health care system as a prophylactic measure, we simultaneously a develop regressive and unscientific policies such as the blood donation ban. We tell our gay brothers they are not good enough to donate blood, and disengage them for life from a fundamental civic action associated with health and community. And, sadly, we lose another opportunity to educate our communities about safer practices for everyone, especially those engaging in higher risk behaviors.
ConclusionIt is must then be obvious the screening of potential blood donors should be based upon assessment of risk behaviors for HIV transmission, while simultaneously promoting community involvement in healthier activities. Participants who donate blood should be supported, educated and encouraged to assess their own level of HIV risk and to make responsible and informed decisions. This in turn protects gay and bisexual men and all those at higher HIV risk from further stigmatization and discrimination. The Center endorses a scientific and non-stigmatizing blood donation policy, in particular GMHC’s six elements of a safe and effective policy – D.O.N.A.T.E.: Decreased risk to recipients, Objective risk factors, Non-discriminatory impact, Awareness raising, Technology-driven procedures, Expansion of donor pool.
The permanent deferral for gay and bisexual men should be replaced with a policy that is scientifically-based, is consistent with other higher-risk groups, and is substantially less discriminatory. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center supports the New York City Council as it speaks with the voice of over 8 million New Yorkers with resolution 80, calling upon the United States Food and Drug Administration to reverse their longstanding prohibition on gay men donating blood.
Andres Hoyos, MS, LMSW Associate Director of Center CARE Wellness
Hearing on Resolution 80 held by the New York City Council’s Committee on Health calling upon the United States Food and Drug Administration to reverse their longstanding prohibition on gay men donating blood, 4/13/10