Donating blood is a simple way to give back to the community. It’s a nice gesture in which one person makes a minimum sacrifice for the greater good of society. But not all are welcome to take part in this act of kindness. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expressly bans blood donations from gay men. The FDA’s policy states:
“Men who have had sex with other men at any time since 1977 (the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States) are currently deferred as blood donors.”
The FDA claims this policy is in place because men who have had sex with men are at an increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B, and other infections that can be transmitted by blood transfusion. But the American Red Cross tests and screens every unit of donated blood for various infectious diseases, including HIV and hepatitis B. Therefore, the ban is not serving any legitimate purpose. It only singles out a class of citizens and reinforces outdated stereotypes about gay men.
Two weeks ago, 19-year-old Caleb Laieski sued the FDA in a Virginia federal court, challenging its policy. Laieski claims the government is discriminating against a class of citizens in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, among other claims. He relies on precedence from the United States Supreme Court cases of Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas, Loving v. Virginia, and United States v. Windsor.
Laieski’s complaint quotes United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy from Lawrence: “They knew times could blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress.” Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 579 (2003). Kennedy’s words seem applicable to the FDA’s policy.
Barring gay men from donating blood may have seemed prudent in the 1980s and 90s. But years later, science has advanced, and this discriminatory policy is no longer necessary. It only serves to trigger old stereotypes that America is ready to move past in 2014. We will see if the Virginia court agrees.
UPDATE – 12/22/16: Lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men has been dropped, but FDA still bars donations from men who have had sex with men within the previous year (link here).