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I didn't realize I was a victim of discrimination until Outlaws (the CLS LGBT identity group) sent the following out over the Students Events mailing list today:



because we couldn't.

After Monday's blood drive, several students approached Outlaws members to address their surprise about the exclusion of some members of our community from this activity. For 20 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the nation's blood supply, has maintained a ban on blood donations from any "male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977." This discriminatory policy is unnecessary and outdated and worsens the current blood shortage at donation centers around the country. The policy represents an irrebuttable presumption of unsafe sexual practice and HIV or other infection by gay men. It is a simple-minded policy that ignores the realities of sexual practice among most gay people and even heterosexuals. We understand and appreciate the health concerns which some claim underlie the policy; however, even health experts question the validity of the ban.

To our friends at the Blood Drive table, we hope this explains why we passed you by. To all others, we support your past blood donations and encourage you to give in the future. We also hope that you will join us in noticing and resisting illogical discrimination wherever it is found.

For more information, we encourage you to visit the following website:


Columbia Outlaws

Cry me a river, boys.

I went to college in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996, so I can't donate blood either. I couldn't donate blood even if I swore in that blood and on my eyes that I was a vegetarian whose diet consisted solely of home-grown organic rutabagas. The evidence that CJD could be spread through the blood supply is nowhere near as strong as evidence regarding transmission of HIV through blood, but it's still too much for the FDA Red Cross. Yet I'd always suspected that my inability get my arm stuck constituted mere risk aversion. I never thought it was an "irrebutable presumption" about my diet so much as the idea that the Red Cross isn't a court, but an organization that needs to get as much blood as possible at the lowest risk and the lowest price. It doesn't make sense to allow a member of a group above a certain risk to "rebut" the presumption. Rebuttal, after all, is something that a lawyer does with a brief, not a nurse with a needle.

By these standards, the FDA Red Cross isn't merely unfairly judging anglophiles. Even if you are incredibly careful about choosing your tattoo parlor and go only to a practitioner with impeccable standards, you're out unless you got inked in a state that regulates your artist. What an irrebuttable presumption against Illustrated Americans! Ditto for those who go and live in malarial countries, irrespective of the frequency that they've taken anti-malarials and made every reasonable precaution. They're just dirty, I guess.

Of course, the truth is that the Red Cross FDA makes rules based upon an individual's relation to a risk group, a decision based upon cost, efficiency, and in no small part upon our torts system. (Imagine the lawsuits if the Red Cross FDA dropped this rule and, contrary to the implication from the Outlaws, it turned out that the decision did increase the risk of infection, and indeed resulted in some transmissions!) It may be that they are too risk averse, and that the standards should not be so strict. But no sensible epidemiologist is going to say that gay men are a lower risk group than many others who are excluded.

Even more annoying: the missive isn't just badly reasoned, it's spam. If Outlaws wants to put forth their policy viewpoints, I've got no real problem with it: let them start a blog. (Ask Chris, I'll host it.) But if they're going to moan about something over an events-announcement mailing list to which members cannot unsubscribe, couldn't they at least bother to organize an event for us?

(UPDATE (11/20): As helpfully mentioned in the comments, the rule is an FDA regulation followed by the Red Cross, not one of its own policies. I've changed the text to make this clear. The lawsuit point still holds, of course: if the FDA dropped the rule and the Red Cross did not maintain the policy, a tort action against it for any subsequent infections is to say the least not unthinkable.

The important point remains: there is no risk analysis that suggests that the average person who lived three months in England in the early 90s is a greater risk to the blood supply than someone who has had homosexual contact. The FDA might be more risk averse than it should be, true, in which case the Outlaws are finding common cause with Newt Gingrich's claims back during the Republican revolution of 94. But to claim that this is merely an anti-homosexual ordinance is to claim that homosexuals should be exempt from risk analysis. I'd prefer that the Outlaws not play politics with the blood supply.)


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THis comment is to clarify that the AMerican Red Cross DOES NOT make the rules. It is required by follow the law. The law is defined with the code of federal regulations and enforced by the FDA. If you are serious about chaning the practice- appeal to the senate and to the lobbyist for a change in the requirements of the United States laws

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