Blood Drive Discrimination

Should it be illegal for black people to donate blood? It’s illegal for gay men to do so, or rather it’s a Federal mandate. The executive branch seems to have a lot of mandates regarding health care. Next time you see a blood drive asking if you want to be a hero and donate blood, please remember that gay men do not qualify to be heroes. The government officially believes that men who have sex with men are unclean. We are a risk.

Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Ribbon

Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Ribbon

This stems from the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s when for the first time in documented human history it was not heterosexuals who carried the majority of sexual diseases. The government began testing blood for HIV in 1986, but the law is still on the books that if you are a man who had sex with a man since 1977 you are filthy, you cannot donate blood, you are not a hero. Teen suicide is so prolific among young gay men. Here is just another way LGBT people are told they are second-class citizens. Let’s not pretend there isn’t a connection.

So HIV infection from what I understand is just as high among African Americans as it is among gay men. Why not make it illegal for African Americans, who have had sex, from donating blood? Can you imagine the protest? Can you imagine the rioting, the infuriated masses? Can you imagine the reaction of Congress to rectify such discrimination immediately? I can. For statistics on HIV in the American population see the Center for Disease Control.

My kindergarten teacher was the first nun to die of AIDS. She got infected through a tainted blood transfusion in 1984. She had gone in for hip surgery and at her age probably needed additional blood. It took her rather quickly, or maybe I just didn’t know what was happening until it was done. I was 8 years old and saw our priest on the local news.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was this past week on February 7, 2013. So why not act as if the law says black people are dirty and can’t donate blood? We can’t, culturally it’s not in us yet.  Even my analogy of African Americans bothers me more than the discrimination against gay men, my own group. How else have we internalized hatred for the LGBT community? Until 1973 psychiatrists officially believed homosexuality was a disease. It is much too prolific statistically to be considered a disease. Otherwise a sixth finger or green eyes would be a disease too. Others say it is morally wrong, but it is consensual, not like rape.

Other say it’s a sin, but despite that it does not preclude faith, hope, or love. Some say it will lead to the fall of society, but to me that’s more communist propaganda. We have always had single parents, orphans, and “confirmed bachelors”. Gay uncles have supported nieces and nephews providing valuable support to family. Gay children have had the time to care for ill parents more than the straight children understandably busy raising the next generation.

America, please don’t make it illegal for blacks to donate blood. If we all refused to donate blood until the law was changed to allow gay men to donate, it could work. The only heartbreak that prevents us from doing so is that others needing the blood or the bone marrow will die in the fight for equality. What alternatives are out there? Write to your Congresswoman? I’m open to ideas.

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About Daniel Roddick

Daniel has a B.A. in American History with minors in both Ethnic Studies and Sociology. He also has an M.Ed. in College Administration and Counseling. Daniel has worked in the financial aid industry for over a decade. He has presented all over the country on financial aid issues related to equity, inclusion, and access to education. He is also a writer of poetry, fiction, and this blog, all of which touch on identity.
This entry was posted in Gender & Sexuality, Race & Ethnicity and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Blood Drive Discrimination

  1. Santosh J says:

    I wouldn’t think of it as discrimination as much as it is about judging risk factors. Now federal policies adjudicating risk may be too agressive, but I would not in any way look at this issue through a prejudist lens.

    Here is an example. I, too, was quite displeased when I tried to donate blood and the folks at Red Cross in the US mentioned I couldn’t do so if I traveled to India within the past 5 years. So that basically means that 1.2 billion people and almost the entire Indian diaspora are counted out. But I realized that their policies existed to weed out all forms of risk. Is this a wide conspiracy against all colored peoples? I certainly think not.

    Would it have made a difference if they took my blood and then threw it away? I think I would feel worse than knowing in advance that my blood wasn’t needed because theirs is a policy of strict enforcement of a wide policy mandate.

    • Hi Santosh, Thank you for your comment. In the 1980’s when the AIDS Crisis was so prevalent in the gay community and there was no way to know how to identify it, I understand the policy they created. However, by 1986 they could test the blood for HIV and there was no longer a need to exclude a whole group. To continue to do so perpetuates the stereotype that gay men are unclean. To maintain the exclusion when other groups are as high a risk of containing HIV is discriminatory by definition.

      I don’t know the reasoning behind excluding those who travel to India. That is a tricky policy. On one hand it doesn’t specifically exclude Indians from donating blood ‘de jure’, yet it ‘de facto’ excludes Indians from donating blood. So though it’s not illegal for Indians to donate blood the effect of the law makes it so. This is the type of institutional racism many groups experience. In this case it may not be racist, again I don’t know the circumstances behind that policy.

  2. Haitians were also prohibited from donating blood in the 1980s because HIV was known to be endemic in Haiti. What the feds neglected to tell us was the U.S. blood industry had been importing blood plasma from Haiti by the plane load since the 1970s. The industry claimed plasma was “in short supply” in the U.S., and our troops fighting in Vietnam were bleeding and needing transfusions. The truth actually had much more to do with much lower payments for plasma per harvest, and much higher profits from government contracts per liter. See http://lambsbloodblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/hemo-caribbean-sold-more-than-3-million-worth-of-blood-plasma-siphoned-from-haitians/

    • Hi Jerry, Thanks for sharing. It’s very interesting to learn the complexities of blood donations and the blood ‘market’. It seems that blood plasma is just as connected to race, class, politics, and other identities as the rest of our society.

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