American Red Cross’ Little Known Blood Discrimination

Zachary Kohn
Staff Writer

What if Goucher held a clothing drive that didn’t allow African-Americans to donate clothes? What if we had a community service program that was open to everyone but Catholics? Would Goucher allow these programs to run? My guess, and its just a guess, but I would say no, they would never allow these programs to advertise on campus, use our facilities, or be associated with the college. It violates our community principles of respect, inclusion, and service and social justice to create or participate in any sort of program which, as a matter of policy, excludes one particular group of students based on a quality which is innate to that person.

(Photo: Google Images)

(Photo: Google Images)

If you think I am stating the obvious, well then you may want to read the policies of the American Red Cross, a group that is on campus every semester. The American Red Cross, and every other blood bank in the country, has been banned from accepting blood from gay men as a matter of federal policy since 1977. This policy stems from a profound misunderstanding about the nature of HIV/AIDS and how it is transmitted. The ban is informed by the earliest days of the HIV scare (at that point still called GRID or Gay Related Immune Deficiency) and the inability to test for the disease.

It is now 2013 and a lot has changed. HIV/AIDS is manageable with a variety of drugs, even curable in specific cases. Tests, which used to take many weeks to processes, now take only minutes and are significantly more accurate. Our collective understanding of HIV/AIDS is no longer based in fear and ignorance, but rather in scientific testing and compassion. Why then, after all of this progress, is there still a ban on gay blood donations?

According to the FDA, the chance, however minuscule, that an HIV+ person may donate blood, and then that blood will be screened and the HIV won’t be detected any of the several times they test the blood, and then may be used in a transfusion is too great a risk. While, this may be true, wouldn’t it then make sense to ask potential donors whether they have had unprotected sex rather than if they have ever had sexual intercourse with a man who has had sexual intercourse with another man?

I suppose as a gay man from central New Jersey, I have had very little experience with institutionalized discrimination, which is why this whole issue is so palpable for me. My family has always been accepting, my faith community has embraced my discovery of my sexual orientation, and my colleges, both Wells College and Goucher, have encouraged my growth as a gay individual. It might be because I have been so supported and felt so welcome, regardless of my sexual orientation, that I was so affected by my first brush with this sort of discrimination. I can honestly say that I have never felt discriminated against as a gay man or otherwise, except when the American Red Cross asks me to donate blood and I have to explain to them that their policies do not allow me to give blood because of who I am.

I do not want to pretend this is an easy issue to navigate. Giving blood is extremely important and is a life saving gift for countless individuals. This is undeniable. This, unfortunately, makes activism on a college campus so problematic. Should Goucher boycott blood donation drives? Two schools in California have gone that way but does that unfairly endanger people in need of vital blood transfusions? However, if we don’t boycott, will inclusion and change ever come for the gay Americans who want to give blood?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but these are issues we all need to be talking about. Goucher needs to reckon with the issue of institutionalized discrimination in the policies of the American Red Cross.

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