A friend recently passed along an invitation to join her in donating blood to support a community blood drive. The American Red Cross, citing system-wide shortages, had put out a call-to-arms for platelet and blood donations, she said, and the local organization was offering two free tickets to a New York Mets baseball game to all those who donated. As a community activist and avid Mets fan, my friend thought I would be an easy “yes.” I had to explain to her – much to her surprise and disappointment — that it was not so simple.
Since 1983, I explained, the FDA has expressly prohibited men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood, a decision that was rooted in the combination of fear, ignorance and uncertainty that was rampant during the onset of HIV and AIDS. Even though an HIV test became available and commonly administered in 1985, and AZT — a drug used the treatment of HIV/AIDS – was approved in 1987, the ban stood. In 1991 the FDA updated its “donor deferral” policy with no change to eligibility for MSM — men who have sex with men — a pattern that continued over the next twenty years through Republican and Democratic administrations alike. In spite of a steady evolution of the public’s acceptance — and government’s support — of gays, this policy — and this issue — has taken on the life of a cockroach, a recalcitrant prehistoric pest that simply refuses to die.
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