By: Mira Costello
On Nov. 30 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in SAC 225, the American Red Cross Club at IU South Bend will hold a blood donation drive. Those interested in donating can find more information about eligibility and sign up at redcrossblood.org with the code “iusb” or “46615”.
Blood transfusions, given with blood from donors – 40% of which gave blood through the Red Cross – save lives. In fact, according to giveblood.org, someone needs blood every two seconds. The American Red Cross Club at IU South Bend allows our community members to participate in helping those people, which is an important opportunity.
However, as this event approaches, we should reflect on the history of blood donation and how its policies have excluded marginalized communities.
According to a column from the American Medical Association, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enacted a policy amid the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s that prohibited donations from men who have had sex with men. This was not a deferral period; any man who had ever had sex with another man could not donate blood for the rest of their life.
It was not until 2015 that the FDA reduced this limitation to stipulate that men who have sex with men (MSM) cannot donate blood until one year after the sexual activity took place. In April 2020, the deferral period was reduced to three months – but this is not enough.
Even MSM who are in long-term monogamous relationships are subject to the deferral period.
Transgender men, who were assigned female at birth, can also not donate blood if they have had sex with a man in the past three months, which is further evidence that the policy is homophobic in nature, and it promotes the archaic idea that HIV and AIDS are a “gay disease.”
All blood, regardless of the donor’s sex or sexuality, is thoroughly screened for all blood-borne diseases, including HIV and AIDS.
Although research is underway that could pressure the FDA to reduce or eliminate the deferral period, the fact that this policy still exists in any capacity is a sign that the need for a fight for LGBTQ+ rights endures.
These policies are not the fault of the Red Cross, and boycotting blood donation is not the answer. In a time where donated blood is scarce, it is more important than ever that those who are healthy and eligible donate blood.
It is equally critical, though, that we stay informed about how our society and government are working against marginalized populations and understand our role in those systems. We must take initiative to learn the histories we were not taught, and to be catalysts for progress, not stagnation.