It’s Not Just Orlando: Gay Men Still Can’t Donate Blood In Most U.S. Cities

On Sunday, the worst mass shooting in national history claimed 49 lives and injured 53 at a gay night club in Orlando, and evidence overwhelmingly suggests the attack was motivated by homophobia. Yet in a twist of bizarre irony, Orlando blood centers continue to uphold antiquated, discriminatory policies prohibiting gay men from donating blood. And, disappointingly enough, for all the outrage Orlando has sparked because of this, most blood centers around the nation uphold the same policies for equally homophobic lines of reasoning. According to its website, the federal Food and Drug Administration upholds that “men who have had sex with other men in the past year are not allowed to give blood,” period.

It’s true these discriminatory policies might trace their ancient roots back to science. Gay men, after all, contracted HIV and AIDS in greater numbers than any other group, and so a connection was automatically made between gay sex and fatal sexually transmitted infections. But in reality, research eventually showed gay sex doesn’t magically create HIV. Rather, the spread of HIV through gay sex was largely due to lack of protection, which seemed unnecessary because there was no woman in the equation to get pregnant. (This also serves as your daily reminder that sex ed is very, very important, people, especially for LGBT youth who are frequently excluded.)

Long story short, regardless of their sexual orientation, anyone who is sexually active and doesn’t use protection is equally vulnerable to contract HIV and spread it through blood donations. And yet, conveniently enough, restrictions only apply to gay men. Hey, that’s discrimination!

Barring gay men who have had sex in the past year from donating blood isn’t the same thing as barring gay men from donating blood, period, just because of their sexual orientation. It’s like saying “hey, there isn’t anything inherently unclean about being gay — just having sex when you’re gay.” Because that’s so much better. Once more for the cheap seats: The spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation and everything to do with whether they’re using adequate protection.

Sure, research indicates that members of the LGBT community might “face health disparities,” which include higher risks for depression, suicidal tendencies, and dangerous drug use, but according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, these “health disparities” are all “linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights.” Homophobic blood donation restrictions might just have something to do with that “societal stigma” and “discrimination.”

gay pride orlando
CREDIT: Eric Thayer/Getty Images

It could be true that blood centers presently aren’t lacking straight volunteers and blood donors, but there’s no denying this systemic discrimination against gay men darkly reflects the bigotry, fear, and hatred that the Sunday mass shooting was ultimately rooted in. Orlando blood centers and the government at large can’t credibly stand with and support LGBTQ people — who paid the ultimate price for socially perpetuated homophobia on Sunday — while maintaining policies that discriminate against and stigmatize them.