In January, the American Red Cross proclaimed its first ever “blood crisis.” Boston-area hospitals have established priority protocols should available blood become scarce. My response to this humanitarian challenge: Tough Nuggies to the homophobic Red Cross.
Forty-five years ago, as a dutiful college undergraduate, I received a gallon-pin from the Red Cross. Then another. My college held blood drives every eight weeks. I laid on a cot and held out my arm every time.
Thirty-seven years ago, at the height of AIDS-mongering fear, the Red Cross stopped taking blood donations from any man who had sex with another man.
Twenty-eight years ago was the first time that my wish to donate blood clashed with this prohibition. I answered ‘yes’ to the man-on-man sex question on my intake form at a blood donation site, and was declined. I got angry, charged the reception desk, argued that this was 1994, that means of transmission were well established. The grey-haired volunteer clutched her pearls as I denounced the Red Cross’ blanket policy that ignored levels of sexual risk. I stomped away in disgust. I daresay the intake lady was glad to see me go.
When the Red Cross stopped wanting my blood, I stopped giving them my greenbacks as well.
Occasionally, over the next decades, I’d go into a Red Cross Blood Drive, fill out the forms, and make a scene when I was denied. Neither an organized nor effective form of protest, yet it allowed me to vent my frustration. Over time, Red Cross policy changed. They’d take a gay man’s blood if he hadn’t had sex in a year. Then they reduced the time to ninety days. We have known (for a long, long time) that not all gay men have HIV in their blood, while all sorts of other people do have HIV in their blood. The Red Cross tests every donor’s pint for hepatitis, HIV syphilis, and a slew of other infections, regardless what identities the donors’ claim. So why, in 2022, are gay men the only demographic asked to refrain from sex for ninety days before doing a good civic deed? The restriction on gay men are nothing more than parochial prejudice; nothing less than good ol’ fashioned homophobia.
The latest blood shortage has clarioned new calls for the Red Cross to loosen their prohibition on blood donations by sexually-active gay men. If they do, I promise that my memory of Red Cross’s misguided discrimination will be short with regards to donating blood: I will give it because people need it. But my heart will be hard to opening my wallet to a supposedly philanthropic institution that has promulgated prejudice beyond thirty years of scientific reason.