BAKERSFIELD, CA - Local gay rights advocates joined a national movement Friday to give homosexual and bisexual men the right to donate blood. They've been banned for life to donate since 1983 by the Food and Drug Administration. Demonstrators called for it to be lifted or reduced.
Four local men were willing to give blood Friday and even got an H.I.V. test to prove their blood was clean. But, they couldn't donate due to the FDA rules. They call the rules outdated, needless, and discriminatory.
Outside the Public Health Building, gay rights advocates gathered signatures to send to the FDA to allow homosexual and bisexual men to donate blood.
"Absolutely, it's archaic," said Robert Petersen, currently banned to donate blood under the rule. "It's archaic and it's discriminatory and it also perpetuates the myth that the heterosexual population isn't effected by H.I.V., and that's not the case at all."
Under the current policy, any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 is banned for life from donating blood. It's a rule put in place to stop the possible spread of H.I.V.
So on Friday, four men, currently not allowed to donate under the ban, were tested for H.I.V. at the Health Department. Each one tested negative.
They then went to Houchin Community Blood Bank to try to donate. They first had to fill out a series of questions from the FDA. The questions ranged from: Have you had acupuncture? Been outside the U.S. or Canada? And, if you are a man, have you ever had sex with another man?
"So, it is not strictly for gay males. It's for anyone that has at-risk behavior that potentially could taint the blood supply," said Greg Gallion, President and C.E.O. of Houchin Community Blood Bank.
Gallion allowed the peaceful demonstration into the blood bank Friday. He says each blood unit collected is thoroughly screened. The FDA says the risk of contracting H.I.V. from a transfusion is about one out of every two million units transfused.
"We at least owe the opportunity to everybody who wants to donate. It's not up to me to prejudge or profile anybody and their sexual preference or social desires. I need to open my doors to everybody and assume they will be honest on the questionnaire," said Gallion.
"There are so many thousands of gay men out there who have got clean blood and we want to donate and we are not able to because of this outdated ban," said Matt Guenther, currently banned to donate blood.
None of the four men was allowed to donate blood Friday because of the ban. Gallion is a member of America's Blood Center. It recommended to the FDA, along with the American Red Cross, to lift the lifetime ban and make it a one-year deferral.
The group is collecting petition signatures until Wednesday, July 17th. They hope to collect over one-hundred.