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Gay Men Are Protesting a Federal Law Barring Them From Donating Blood
07/12/2013   Reported By: Keith Shortall
Brian Hodges in Front of the Red Cross

Gay men across the nation today organized a blood drive intended as a protest against a long-standing federal policy barring gay and bisexual men from donating blood. The effort reached into Maine, where at least one activist in Portland was denied his offer of blood, and used the event to make a statement to the news media.

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A Sign Ask For Blood Donations

The signs in front of the American Red Cross Blood Donation Center in Portland issued a strong plea, "Please Donate Today!" one reads. "Critical Need."

"Well right now we've seen about a 10 percent decrease in our blood donations in June and the beginning of July."

Ellen Russell, director of donor recruitment in Portland said the Red Cross is urging Mainers to donate through July and August.

"And they can help save a life," she said. "And I'll tell ya. You feel really good when you give blood, because you know you've helped somebody and its a great thing to do."

At about noon today, the waiting room of the Portland Donation center was busy. Among those who had come to offer blood, was Brian Hodges of West Gardiner. He came even though he expects that he'll be turned down, because he's gay.

"We feel this is great way to make a strong statement and let people know how many people are actually interested in doing this but are not able to because of their sexual orientation."

Since 1977, federal law has barred gay and bisexual men from giving blood. Hodges said he last tried to do it about 15 years ago. This time, he has documentation to show that he is HIV negative.

"What's interesting is I've been in a committed relationship for the past 12 years, and I actually brought with me letters for the past two years from my doctor showing that I am actually HIV negative," Hodges said.

Keith Shortall: "And you think that should be enough to allay any fears about tainting the blood supply?"
Brian Hodges: "Absolutely. We all know that the donations that are given are actually tested. So there is no risk, certainly for the population, because of the testing that is done, and because I have been in a committed relationship can show proof that I am HIV negative."

Critical Need SignSince the federal ban was imposed in 1977, all donated blood has been tested for HIV and for other pathogens. But the screening questionaire that's still used today for male donors includes asking whether he has had sex with men. If the answer is yes they are are disqualified from giving blood. The FDA said on its website that its policy is not discriminatory or judgmental, but based on risk factors. That includes the finding that men who have had sex with other men account for more than 60% of all new HIV infections in the U.S.

Today's demonstration, said activist Brian Hodges, seeks to convince the FDA and other regulators TO assess individual risks OF donors, rather than their sexual behavior.

"This is a combination of the American Red Cross, the FDA, and the Health and Humans Services Department," he said. "I think if they work together they can make a difference with this..we're simply asking not to treated as second class citizens. We want to have the same rights..we want to help people just as much as everybody else does."

It a written statement, the American Red Cross said its believes the lifetime ban for men who have sex with other men should be modified, and made comparable with criteria for assessing other risk behaviors.

Photos by Keith Shortall.


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