I urge the student body and University administration to consider, discuss and reflect on the social, political and psychological implications of participation in and promotion of a blood drive that prohibits donations from gay and bisexual men.
Across the United States, businesses, non-profit organizations, churches, universities and hospitals regularly hold blood drives to meet the persistent need for blood for transfusions. According to a recent e-mail sent to all University students, staff and faculty from Vice President for Student Affairs, E. Royster Harper, the donation of blood is a humanitarian act, a civic duty, a way to show your school pride and the gift of life itself. The American Red Cross, which collects 40 percent of donated blood in the United States, encourages organizations to hold blood drive events in order to increase goodwill in communities, provide an avenue for individual altruism and save lives. After natural disasters, when coping with the death or illness of a loved one, or simply looking for a way to “give back,” people are encouraged by their friends, families and institutions to donate blood.
Maybe you’ve given blood, volunteered at a blood drive, even spearheaded an event like the Blood Battle against Ohio State University. Good. You understand the personal significance of participation and you’ve likely saved lives. Take a second to consider the following: Imagine that you are banned from donating blood starting now and for the rest of your life. Your vital blood and your civic contribution are unwanted and rejected. You are excluded. You are banned. You are unworthy to donate.
The ban on your blood has nothing to do with any blood-borne illnesses (you aren’t living with any) or because of sexual behavior that puts you at particular risk for a blood-borne illness (at University-sponsored blood drives and at blood drives around the country, a man is barred from donating blood if he has had any form of protected sexual contact with another man even once). You are banned because you are a man who once had a boyfriend or who comes home every night to a husband instead of a wife. How does this feel? Do you feel useless? Unwanted? Hated?
This feeling is the unexamined stigma reified by the quiet complicity of institutions like the University and schools across campus, including the School of Social Work. If we remain silent about the downsides inherent in holding blood drives and if we refuse to incorporate discussions about advocacy and awareness into our promotion of and participation in blood drives, then we will continue contributing to the oppression of gay and bisexual men.
At the University, we frequently approach social justice issues from all-or-nothing perspectives. Things are good or bad — and right or wrong. There are rarely, if ever, open conversations about the nuances and paradoxes inherent in many of the activities. The current and ongoing University-wide blood drive, held in classrooms and common areas all over campus, represents this aversion to dialogue and self-reflection. Conversations are limited to the idea that blood drives are inherently and unassailably good. No questions, comments or concerns are welcome. No criticisms or analyses allowed; no education necessary.
Most things in life are rarely perfect. That doesn’t mean we can’t work to make them better. We don’t have to ignore the stigmatizing and marginalizing effects of blood drives. We can promote the incredible benefits of blood drives without relying on shaming those who do not or cannot participate in them. We should hold these events while holding transparent conversations about our complicity in structural oppression and ways we can work to oppose it. It’s time for us to reflect.
Craig Laurie is a graduate student in the School of Social Work.