By Laura Fishman
A crowd stood outside the Kresge Town Hall Saturday afternoon waiting to become heroes and save lives by donating blood at the American Red Cross blood drive. However, not everyone was eligible to achieve the honorable goal of donating blood.
A man who has had any sexual contact with another male has not been eligible to donate blood at American Red Cross blood drives since 1977. Women are not allowed to donate blood if they’ve had sexual contact with one of these men within the last year.
Before giving blood, a donor is are required to fill out a questionnaire about his or her health history asking specifically if he or she falls under one of those categories. Anyone who answers yes is ineligible to donate.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put this particular regulation into effect in 1983, when AIDS was thought of as an exclusively male homosexual disease. Today the regulation is still in place in order to protect blood receivers from the risk of HIV/AIDS.
On the UC Santa Cruz campus, many people find the rule discriminatory against gay men because heterosexuals are still allowed to donate blood even if they have participated in behavior that would put themselves at risk to HIV/AIDS.
UCSC third-year Christo Gnat tried to shed light on the organization’s “discriminatory policies” by raising awareness and talking about it with other people.
“ I feel that everybody should be able to donate blood,” Gnat said. “We’re all human and we’re all trying to help each other out.”
The FDA makes the eligibility rules that the American Red Cross adheres to; therefore, it is up to the FDA to change the guidelines. Sara O’Brien, the Northern California American Red Cross spokesperson, said the organization does not agree with all FDA restrictions.
“It’s a regulation of the FDA that all the blood banks must call out,” O’Brien said. “The Red Cross has asked the FDA to reconsider that policy.”
Rose Cranna, the blood drive organizer at Kresge College, agreed that particular rule is homophobic and should be changed.
“It’s an outdated rule,” Cranna said. “It’s well known now that a person’s gay lifestyle does not cause AIDS.”
In addition, Cranna believes the regulation is out-of-date because Red Cross is now able to test samples for HIV before the blood is given to patients. The blood donations are always tested to ensure the blood is healthy and safe to give to a person in need.
According to O’Brien, the blood testing services have developed over the past 20 years, and they’re now more accurate than ever before. The Red Cross believes the policy should be changed based on the testing accuracy of the services today.
Some UCSC students have chosen not to support American Red Cross blood drives, because they see the FDA’s policy as discriminatory.
“When I was tabling for the event, there were some heated people who said they were going to boycott blood-drives based on the homophobic restrictions,” Cranna said.
Gnat donated his blood in the past, but once he found out that the American Red Cross enforced a rule that doesn’t allow gay men to participate, he chose not to donate. Currently, he feels a boycott against American Red Cross blood drives would be an effective way of getting the rule to change.
“If people stopped donating blood, the Red Cross would reconsider the ban, since they’re always concerned about enough blood being donated,” Gnat said.
Todd Sempel, a fourth-year Sociology major, said that he was against a boycott and believes the FDA’s restrictions should not outweigh the good intentions of blood drives.
“I don’t think people should boycott the Red Cross,” Sempel said. “I am opposed to lives being lost just to prove a point.”
With the growing controversy of the FDA’s rule, Cranna predicts that regulations will be changed sometime in the near future. In the meantime, gay men are still denied.
“I think the people who are not eligible to donate are really missing out on a great opportunity,” Sempel said. “Their choices are to either not donate blood, or to lie. Neither one is honorable.”