07 May, 2005

Red Cross bashes queers -- who will bash back?

In his always entertaining AmericaBlog, "Joe in DC" writes that the FDA doesn't want sperm donations to come from gays, bi men, or even dudes on the DL. The science behind this decision is -- let's just say it's of the Bush Administration's usual high calibre.

With this very flimsy news hook, I want to rant about a similar rule for donating blood. The American Association of Blood Banks and the Red Cross don't want fag blood.* Since the 1980s, these semi-official guardians of the blood supply have forbidden homos from polluting the nation's precious bodily fluids. Back in 1985, the policy made sense -- AIDS was a strange new communicable disease that only struck gay men. The first and best thing to do was to forbid donations from gay men.

Not long afterward, epidemiology revealed that a man could make out with a man and the combined saliva did not spontaneously generate retroviruses. A man without HIV could squirt cum down any orifice he felt like in members of either sex, and HIV would not magically materialize. It took longer to be sure of it, but according to the nurses at the San Francisco AIDS clinic I recently talked to, it now seems that a man with HIV can blow his load in your mouth without giving you any bugs. (This is still risky, however, especially since it can transmit other diseases.)

Meanwhile, in the late 1980s, we got the HIV test. So today, it makes much more sense to exclude people based on their risky behaviors than on their membership in some sort of "risk group." You might say, gays should take this as a blessing -- it means there’s no guilt when you fail to donate blood.

But there is a problem. Every time someone donates blood, s/he hears that gay sex is dangerous. That having sex with a man who's ever had sex with a man is dangerous. Conversely, the Red Cross questions do not ask women if they have had sex with a man since 1977. There are no questions at all about risky behaviors. There is no mention of condoms or other barrier precautions. So the implicit AIDS prevention message is: don't have sex with a man-fucking man, and you're all set.

This would be just annoying if it weren't dangerous. Women who have sex with men are missing out on HIV awareness. I know many very sexually active 20-something women who routinely have unsafe sex with slutty men. Public health organizations should take any opportunity they can to remind women that condoms work.

The Red Cross' ridiculous tardiness in changing its donation guidelines would be more excusable if they weren't constantly updating the document. I used the Wayback Machine and Microsoft Word's "compare documents" feature to look at how the page has changed. Among the dozens of changes over the past 2 years, the page has:

  • eliminated its paragraph that said, "Marijuana: Acceptable as long as you are not under the influence of marijuana at the time of donation."
  • Removed a bunch of illnesses from the list of exclusions, including leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

Meanwhile, back on the HIV ranch, they have made their rules even more obnoxious. You can no longer donate if:

  • in the past 12 months, you have had sex with a man who has had sex with a man, even once since 1977, even if both you and he were absolutely diligent about safe sex, HIV testing, and so on.
  • you have ever had sex with anyone who has lived in large parts of Africa since 1977. Again, it doesn't matter if he wore three condoms during the blowjob and pulled out before he came. Any sexual contact is enough to make you a persona non grata.
If they are so concerned about risk groups, the least they could do is update their, um, blacklist. According to the Centers for Disease Control, "HIV/AIDS was among the top 3 causes of death for African American men aged 25-54 years ... It was the number 1 cause of death for African American women aged 25-34 years."

But they’re not. They don't block black people and they don't ask about condom use. If anything, they seem to make an effort to keep the word “condom” off their survey. So if a woman leaves a bareback bukkake scene, walks to a blood bank, and sits down to donate blood, she’s welcome. But a guy who had safe, consensual sex with another men in 1991? Get out.

This shows that the Red Cross is unconcerned about slowing the spread of HIV. But they do care about money. Which could solve this all.

Many workplaces, schools, and churches that hold blood drives prohibit their facilities’ use by groups that discriminate on sexual orientation. That’s why they are kicking out the Boy Scouts and why just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether colleges can be forced to help the military recruit straight people.

So the next time you see your university, workplace, public agency, or house of worship hosting a blood bank, remind them that the Red Cross still hates fags and maybe they shouldn't be welcome.

added 5/9/5: Since there's no health justification for a blanket blockade of gays, and since there are plenty of gays in the Red Cross hierarchy, I suspect it wouldn't take much effort to get them to change. If they had to miss a single school blood drive, that would cost them thousands of dollars. I doubt they'll be like the Boy Scouts, going to the courts to defend queer-bashing.

*I called both organizations a few months back to try to find out who made up these guidelines. It was one of the more intense runarounds I've ever gotten. The Red Cross blamed the AABA which said the guidelines came from the FDA. The FDA didn't know what I was talking about. The fractures on my telephone handset grew wider each time I slammed it down. In the interest of my phone's longevity, I quit the search.

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