As students at the University of Michigan, we are lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are passionate about the recognition and equality of all social identities, and we are encouraged to become involved in activism around social justice issues. Yet one issue continues to be overlooked, even by employees and administration at the University — people who should care more about the discrimination that impacts many of their students on a regular basis.

Due to the existing inequality in the blood donation process, it’s necessary to spread awareness about the FDA’s policy that bans men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood, while simultaneously advocating for a policy change. This will require the support of the University campus, the Ann Arbor community and beyond.

According to a meeting that occurred with the Blood Products Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 2, blood donation is “not considered a civil right.” This was one of several infuriating comments expressed by those hesitating to change the policy. Though recent conversations have been shaped around changing the policy to a one-year deferral period, the hesitations toward moving forward with a policy change are still incredibly discriminatory. Even a one-year deferral period implies that simply being gay or bisexual is a risk.

A study at the University of California, Los Angeles determined that this recent change could allow over 317,000 more blood donations each year, but a removal of this policy could allow that number to double. Considering that each blood donation can save three lives, a removal of the policy could potentially save thousands of lives every year.

Despite the excitement surrounding the only progress regarding a change in this policy since its implementation in 1983, many factors are being overlooked. Individuals would still be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, and those who identify as MSM are being forced to remain abstinent for 12 months if they wish to donate blood. Behaviorally based deferral periods related to contracting HIV, such as intravenous drug use or receiving payment for sex, are one-year deferrals. Although this new deferral period for MSM claims to be following the same guidelines, it focuses on sexual orientation rather than risky sexual behaviors for all potential donors. However, with new nucleic acid scientific testing, HIV can be detected within three days of contracting the virus, and every blood donation is already tested for HIV. Therefore, even a one-year deferral period is unwarranted, and the concern should be refocused away from sexual orientation.

A successful and appropriate policy change would be to ask all potential donors about potentially unsafe sexual behaviors, such as having new sexual partners or unprotected sex. It’s entirely possible that people who are currently eligible to donate by the FDA’s standards are at a much greater risk of contracting HIV than those who identify as MSM, which is why an overhaul of the entire blood donation health history process is necessary. This would create a blood supply that’s even safer than it is now, while simultaneously removing sexual orientation from the questioning process.

This Wednesday, from 2 to 8 p.m. in the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union, Blood Drives United is hosting a sponsor blood drive. The aim of this blood drive is to create an inclusive space, raise awareness and educate the community. Anyone who’s ineligible to donate because of this discriminatory policy is encouraged to bring someone to donate on their behalf, which will demonstrate that potentially twice as much blood could be collected if this policy were lifted.

We will be engaging in conversations to address opinions about the policy, how we can better educate those on campus and ways to bring this activism to the attention of the FDA to push for a more inclusive policy change. Those who attend will receive a free t-shirt, have the opportunity to be interviewed for a video explaining the policy and will be able to engage in meaningful dialogue about social justice in blood donation and healthcare.

It’s imperative to consider how this policy is still encouraging discrimination in the United States. Several countries do not factor sexual orientation into their blood donation processes, including Chile, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Russia and South Africa. It’s time that the United States learns from other countries to see how ending this inequality could also save more lives.

If you have any questions or ideas about the policy or Blood Drives United’s efforts, please contact blooddrivesunited@umich.edu.

Samantha Rea is an LSA senior.

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