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Bad Blood: Politics Trumps Science in the Gay Blood Donation Debate

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In early 2002, I donated bone marrow only because I lied about having sex with men.

At the moment of my lie, a seven year old boy lay dying with Leukemia. As the chemo deployed to save his life destroyed his small body, I was at Vassar College being confronted for the first time at a blood drive by a cheery volunteer asking me if I had had sex with a man in the last 20 years. [Confession, I had.]

That question was unexpected, and as my friends all around me whizzed through the questions on to the chairs to donate, I thought what the hell, "No." Three months later I was informed I was a perfect match for a now seven year old boy that needed a bone marrow donation, or he would die.

The recent debate on Gay Blood Donations does not have science at its core. Instead, it's a debate as to the otherness of GLBT citizens. The skin of the GLBT community has thickened as our personhood is relentlessly debated, yet something vexes me as science is not central to the debate as to whether the decades old ban on blood donations by gays should be revisited, if not rescinded.

The GLBT community continues to fight for the basic tenets of citizenship. Yet, some battles still seem odd. Gay men and women are fighting to be in the military, an honorable thing, but one that endangers their lives. Gay men and women are fighting to get married, radical to some. Gay men and women are fighting to be able to adopt and foster, a deeply needed service. And, gays are fighting to provide the very essence of life to their fellow Americans. DENIED.

"As a man, have you had sex with another man in the last 20 years." [I sincerely hope all of my (of age) gay brothers have.] An honest answer for a sexually-active gay man to that one question excludes that blood donation. This despite the scientific advances that makes our nation's blood supply the safest in the world; this despite the ability to test blood, a test that happens regardless of the answer; this despite the desperate need for more donations. It makes no scientific sense. It's based on an outdated notion that gay men are sexually promiscuous and diseased arising from the early days of AIDS when the ban was put into place.

My little lie to the blood collector placed the life of another in my hands. In an effective manner, I was given certain details of his life; he had two siblings (I did too), he had a single mom (I did too); and he was dying (I was not). I said "YES."

If I had simply said "No," that boy may have died. Today, he is alive and well. My bone marrow went into his body and rejuvenated a life. Under general anesthesia they drilled four holes into my pelvis, and withdrew from me, my very marrow. I gave life because I lied. I gave it gladly, and truthfully. I recovered quickly.

Today, annoyingly at times, there seems to be a blood drive monthly. I do not participate, and I explain to my colleagues in the room why I am the only senior level executive, never mind warm blooded person on the campus to not donate today. The donation stickers, like the "I Voted" stickers are rightfully worn with pride; it is embarrassing and perpetuates the stereotype of Gay Blood as something diseased that we are not allowed the chance to give life. My colleagues provide me a flat smile, and the subject changes.

I don't lie anymore, because truthfully I did my part, and I think of it as an opportunity to explain to my colleagues why once again Gays and Lesbians are second class in this country. However, I encourage my GLBT brethren to engage in some good ole fashion civil disobedience. Besides, as far as I understand the Fundamentalist Right's definition of "sex," it does not include what I do in bed with my husband. Give life. There are people out there that need us. See you in line at the next drive.

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