Dear Vice President Harper,
Last week, I received an email from you reminding students of the 35th annual Blood Battle with Ohio State. In your email, you encouraged students to sign up to donate blood, helping “us win and … save lives.” I’m responding to you now to say that even though I am a healthy, able-bodied young man, I will not be donating blood. I will not because I cannot, and this is because I am a gay student at the University of Michigan.
In your letter, you informed me that throughout the drive’s existence, the University of Michigan has collected enough blood to save the lives of more than 644,000 people. This grand accomplishment is something we should be proud of: These are lives that matter. Yet, I can’t help but feel that we can improve the manner in which we conduct this meaningful public health initiative.
As you are probably aware, under the current FDA regulations the Red Cross cannot legally accept blood from a “man who has had sex with another man during the past 12 months.” Gay men are not alone in these regulations.
They also apply to any “female who has had sex during the past 12 months with a man who has had sex with another man in the past 12 months.” Consequently, the FDA requires blood from these groups of people to be deferred unless a person of this group abstains from sex for 12 consecutive months. This directly “defers” the donations of all sexually active gay men, bisexual men and any heterosexual or bisexual women who have had sex with gay or bisexual men.
I am aware that donating blood saves lives. I am aware that HIV disqualifies any infected individual from donating blood. I am aware that the majority of newly diagnosed HIV cases are within the gay demographic. I am aware that “window periods” make detecting the disease less certain. I am aware that the FDA and the Red Cross take the health of the people receiving blood donations very seriously and consider their treatment of policy very thoughtfully and conservatively.
But I am also aware of research that suggests that an individual sexual risk assessment is just as effective as the prohibitory and generalizing policy that the FDA has adopted; that HIV can be prevented through the use of safe sex and, even, medication; and that it is mandated for health care professionals to screen donated blood for HIV prior to transfusion.
I would like to contextualize the FDA’s policy within our own University’s policy on non-discrimination. We, as a University community, claim: “The University of Michigan is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, height, weight, or veteran status in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions.” Yet, because of my sexual orientation, I am not offered the same opportunity to help my school or my community through participation of this historic blood drive. Instead I am “differed.”
Yes, I am “differed” along with those who, according to the Red Cross, “have ever used needles to take drugs … not prescribed by (their) doctor … have ever taken money, drugs or other payment for sex … (or) in the last 12 months have been in juvenile detention, lockup, jail, or prison for more than 72 hours.” This bears the offensive implication that, because of my sexual orientation, I am inherently hazardous to my community.
In other words, my health, my lifestyle and my merit are questioned primarily on the basis that I am gay. Therefore, it seems to me that as a healthy, monogamous and responsible person, I am being unfairly and unnecessarily “differed” from one of the cornerstones of my University’s history.
This annual Blood Battle presents me with two choices: For 12 consecutive months, I can rebuke a part of my identity in order to donate blood, or I can live freely while accepting the systematic discrimination that the University perpetuates annually.
Neither of these options are ideal. So, perhaps, the 35th annual Blood Battle presents our University community with an opportunity to follow up on our self-attributed “Leaders and the Best” character. Perhaps, we can speak out against this implicit discrimination. Perhaps, we can unite to change our tradition into a wholly inclusive process.
Your email reminds me of this.
Daniel Iammatteo is a School of Music, Theatre & Dance senior.