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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Queer Union, NYU LGBT community to FDA: 'Don't waste our blood!'

Doug Miller, NYU junior, pours the 'blood' he can't donate in the trash.
Doug Miller, NYU junior, pours the 'blood' he can't donate in the trash.

By Doak Jantzen -

A blood drive in Washington Square Park on Friday had some unlikely protesters: its own organizers.

New York University's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered organization, Queer Union, co-sponsored a blood drive outside the university student center with the New York City Blood Center and No Boundaries, an international LGBT organization.

The LGBT groups were also there to protest the Food and Drug Administration's policy barring men who have sex with men (MSM) and women who have sex with men who have sex with men (WSMSM) from donating blood.

According to the FDA, the ban goes back to 1983, when the possibility of spreading HIV through transfusions was first recognized.  The current policy deferring donations from MSM and WSMSM has been in place since 1992.

Chanting "Don't waste our blood!" members of Queer Union encouraged pedestrians to sign their petition against the policy and donate blood.

To draw attention to those prohibited from donating, the protesters symbolically drew fake blood from illegible donors and dumped it in a waste basket.

Queer Union Co-Vice President Carlo Maria Ampil called the ban "institutionalized homophobia."  A statement from Queer Union said the ban stems from a “heterosexist discourse from the HIV/AIDS crisis that designated the queer body as the diseased, the contaminated, and the unwanted body.”

After pouring a pint of fake blood in the trash can to represent the blood he would have donated, NYU junior Doug Miller said, "My understanding is they're screening the blood anyway.  I know so many people in [the LGBT] community that would donate if they could.”

Keith Hudson, manager of regional communications at the New York Blood Center, said the barrage of heavy snow that hit the city this winter shut down blood drives by keeping potential donors indoors.  After the NYBC's reserves fell to a dangerous two-day supply level, the center held an emergency appeal for blood donations from Jan. 27 to Feb. 9.

"We have a great relationship with NYU, so when they approached us to do this blood drive and this demonstration, we were happy to come down," Hudson said.

The NYBC distributes blood to some 200 hospitals in the area, including city hospitals and hospitals on Long Island, in the Hudson Valley, and in Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

"The MSM issue is one that has been around since 1983," said Hudson. "We're just happy to be here so that people can donate blood and [Queer Union] can tell people about the ban."

In April 2010, the New York City Council held a meeting about the ban, prompting the FDA to review its policy.  Hudson said that such reviews have occurred periodically over the decades.

"It is [the position of the NYBC] that the FDA should continue to review this policy," said Hudson.  "They take this issue very seriously and have lots of statistical data that they use."

According to the FDA's website, men who have had sex with men since 1977 (the official beginning of the AIDS epidemic) are 60 times more likely to test HIV-positive than the general population.

"The FDA's primary responsibility is to enhance blood safety and protect blood recipients.  Therefore FDA would change this policy only if supported by scientific data showing that a change in policy would not present a significant and preventable risk to blood recipients," reads a statement on the FDA’s website.

"We just want to bring a university perspective to the debate and let people know that this ban exists," said Ampil.  "Lots of people think it has been lifted, but it still is here."


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