According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is too risky to allow a certain three percent of the population to participate in blood drives. Since 1983, the FDA has enforced that blood drives screen out any man who has had sex with another man since 1977, even if it was only once. Women who have had sex with such men are also denied participation.

The policy is in place to prevent collection of any HIV-positive specimens, which the FDA says is most likely to come from sexually active gay men. In a 2004 response to a New York University petition, an FDA representative stated that the FDA’s policy “is based on available scientific studies that demonstrate that, as a group, men who have sex with other men are at a higher risk for transmitting infectious disease than are other individuals.”

As recently as 2000, when this issue was last brought up for reconsideration, the FDA upheld its stance. While the 1983 decision could be seen as a result of worldwide concern and confusion over the birth of the AIDS epidemic, the same cannot be said for continual enforcement. The policy echoes archaic, stigmatized public opinions of the ’80s that asserted HIV/AIDS was a “gay man’s disease.”

Times have changed.

The world has had a few decades to learn about and cope with HIV/AIDS, during which both stigmas and technologies have developed concerning the disease. The FDA’s guideline ignores the technological developments that allow blood to be tested for HIV. But it does pay a great deal of attention to the stigmas: it reinforces negative cultural beliefs that irrevocably link gay men and AIDS.

Donating blood is an honorable right that many Americans choose take part in. To deny someone this right and the ability to save lives because of his sexuality is to blatantly discriminate while robbing the person of a noble opportunity. Not only does the FDA policy make blood drives an exclusionary and discriminatory practice, but it also limits the possible supply of blood. A gay man’s blood can save a life too, can it not?

However, with HIV statistics in favor of the FDA’s stance, health and safety precautions should undoubtedly be observed in blood exchange routines. Twenty-two years ago the FDA licensed a test to screen donor blood for HIV antibodies, but the policy has yet to change. If organizers, like the Red Cross, test all collected blood regardless, why must the donor screening process first weed out potential HIV carriers?

Notably, there is a two-month “window period” following exposure to HIV during which blood tests cannot detect the virus. This fact, however, does not explain why a man who slept with another man in, say, 1978 cannot contribute.

Blood drives screen out homosexual candidates based on the honor system, hoping that potential male donors will truthfully admit to having ever had sex with another man.

Rather than depend upon men to follow an honor system about their sexuality before donating, they should rely on people who knowingly have HIV/AIDS to not donate — as for the unaware carriers, testing technology can catch their donations before it is distributed.

This discrimination is not the fault of the people behind blood drives; it is the fault of the government administration operating behind them.

Attention FDA: Your rule reinforces negative ideologies about gay men, their sexuality and the AIDS disease itself. You deny a group of people the honor of helping to save lives. This is 2007, not 1977. Update your policy.