WASHINGTON (NewsChannel 8) - Now in its second year, the National Gay Blood Drive is pushing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to change its 31-year-old policy preventing gay and bisexual men from donating blood.
The policy was created in 1983, at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Today, the National Gay Blood Drive, started by filmmaker and activist Ryan James Yezak, draws thousands of gay and straight participants from across the country.
Shannon McLaughlin gave a pint of blood not only to save lives, but also to take a stand for her gay friend, Michael.
"I am always willing to donate blood, because it is very important," McLaughlin said. "I am especially interested in this because Michael hasn't been able to donate blood in the past."
Jay Franzone, the drive's director of social media and political outreach, said, "When I first found out, I was really in shock and denial that I really couldn't save, at that time, my uncle's life. My uncle had massive internal bleeding after a liver surgery gone wrong and I couldn't give blood for him."
The FDA says safety of the U.S. blood supply is one of its highest priorities, but it is willing to consider new screening methods, releasing the following statement: "If those approaches can assure that blood recipients are not placed at an increased risk of HIV or other transfusion transmitted diseases, the FDA will consider a change to its current policy."
Participants in the National Gay Blood Drive just want to see change.
"It's just really outdated, and we have the technology now to test blood and to know what samples are safe and unsafe it's unfair to exclude an entire group of people unnecessarily," McLaughlin said.
"It discriminates based on sexual orientation, not based on risky behavior," Franzone said.
Last year, just 20 people signed up to participate in the National Gay Blood Drive in the District. This year, that number jumped to 60, not including walk-in donations.
"The word really is getting out that there's this discriminatory FDA ban against gay and bisexual men donating blood," said local organizer Laura Marler. "As a result, more people are wanting to come out and show their support."
The support is coming from allies, like McLaughlin, who have no problem rolling up their sleeves for a friend.
The American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers and AABB say the safety of volunteer blood donors and recipients of blood is a top priority. However, all three organizations released a statement saying they "believe the current lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with other men should be modified and that donor deferral criteria should be made comparable with criteria for other behaviors that pose and increased risk for transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections."
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