Freshmen fight FDA blood donation ban

Six AU freshmen have been organizing a campaign against the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with another man.

The campaign, Red is in the Rainbow, is part of the School of Public Affairs’ Leadership program. Incoming freshman in the program have worked in designated small groups since August to create a social action project. Red is in the Rainbow is the project of the Gender and Sexuality Group.

Josh Parrish, a freshman in SPA, said the group chose to tackle the MSM (man who has had sex with another man) blood ban after researching different issues.

“This is an issue that people really don’t know about, and the ban prevents altruistic people from saving lives,” Parrish said.

After spending the fall semester researching the project, Red is in the Rainbow wrote a petition, which asks for a repeal of the MSM blood ban. However, the group offered a solution by requesting men who have had sex with another man not be able to donate blood for a year. Many countries have adopted this policy as an in-between step.

“While it’s not ideal, we feel that it is a necessary stepping stone to reach full equality and repeal the policy completely,” said Emily Horowitz, a freshman in SPA working on the project.

The petition currently has over 400 signatures, and students hope to get 10,000 signatures before sending it to the FDA.

The students have created videos and social media sites to raise awareness about the issue.

Red is in the Rainbow is also planning a blood drive with the Red Cross in Letts Formal Lounge on April 25 to raise awareness. Organizers will give out stickers that read, “I can’t donate blood, ask me why!” and “I’m donating blood for someone who can’t.”

The 1983 MSM blood ban policy was created to protect transfusion patients from contracting HIV.

Even if a gay man has never tested positive for HIV/AIDS, he is permanently deferred from donating blood, according to the group’s website.

The FDA defended its decision by saying that gay and bisexual men continue to be at elevated risk for contracting HIV. However, the SPA group believes this policy is discriminatory, and with today’s technology the ban is not necessary.

“We found that if the ban is ended, then there will be enough blood donors to end today’s blood shortage, and that is really striking,” said Horowitz.

Many LGBT advocacy organizations are working on the issue as a side project, but no group’s mission centers around the problem, according to Parrish.

The group is focusing mainly on raising awareness at AU, but is also reaching out to D.C. organizations, U.S. senators and the media. Horowitz and Parrish published an article in the Huffington Post in January about the blood ban.

Other groups within the SPA Leadership Program have focused on developing after-school sustainability programs, creating care packages for impoverished areas of D.C. and raising awareness about transgender violence, according to Dani Nispel, the teaching assistant for Red is in the Rainbow.

“The success of the groups always varies,” said Nispel. “But I think it’s cool to see how much passion is going into these projects.”

Parrish and Horowitz believe the project will achieve its goal in the near future.

“We’re at the point where even the Red Cross has spoken out about the problem,” he said “and I think that needs to be taken into consideration.”

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