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Ken Schneck, PhD Headshot

Dear White House: End the Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood. Now. Please?

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Ending the ban on gay men giving blood is more important than marriage equality. There. I said it.

Were the LGBT powers from on-high to ring me up and ask, "Oh ye gay radio show host, wherever should we devote our time and energy... marriage equality or blood donation?" I would respondeth, "The latter."

Now, before the comments below turn nasty, let's all acknowledge that we thankfully don't have to make that choice. There are a ton of folks working on myriad issues in this great fight for equality and we certainly don't have to narrow our focus to one issue. But, y'know, if we did, I would choose the issue that is directly tied to actual lives being saved rather than the issue in which the saving of lives is either indirect or metaphorical.

And yet we just don't hear the White House issuing statements on ending the blood donation ban as they would file an amicus brief for, say, other issues.

Happily, a group of Sarah Lawrence College students (yay for hope for the future!) are pushing back by coordinating a petition to elicit a response from the White House. You should sign it and share it. Now.

Look, I just can't seem to find the answer on this blood ban and I've been writing and speaking about it for far too many years. I can't understand why, when the blood supply is dangerously low, we can't figure out how to save more lives by increasing the donor pool. Other countries have ended this archaic, more-fear-than-science-based ban. Why can't we?

I've tried the scientific arguments. I've tried the social justice arguments. So maybe I'll try a personal one here?

My history with this ban is a long and winding one. I had skipped the opportunity to donate blood in high school as I didn't want it to interfere with my yearbook responsibilities, and don't think I'm not joining you in rolling my eyes at that admission. Then in 1995, as a freshman in college, I donated blood for the first time.

After they typed my blood, I learned I was O-, the universal donor. I can save all of you; only a few of you can save me. I was told that, as less than 5 percent of the world's population sported my superhero blood type (I designed a cape and everything), I would be getting a lot of reminders from the blood center to keep on donating. I was excited.

Then, at one point during my freshman year (Mom and Dad, please stop reading), I had sex for the first time. I can honestly say my mind that evening was not on the ramifications to my donating blood. But sure enough, the next time I went to donate, I was asked, "Have you had sex with a man since 1977?" and I was immediately disqualified.

I was heartbroken. I didn't understand being cast aside. And, as I had been added to some mailing list after my successful first donation, I received weekly reminders emblazoned with phrases like, "Come back and save a life!" and "You have what we need!" I want to come back! But apparently I don't have what you need!

Almost two decades later, I still cringe when I walk by a blood drive poster on the bulletin board outside my office. I feel degraded to be constantly dehumanized by this ban. I feel embarrassed to want to save lives and be told that I am not capable of such acts. I feel anger and shame and sadness. All because I'm a gay man who has had sex. All because I want to donate blood and cannot.

The White House chose to get involved in the Prop 8 debate because they had "seen the unjust consequences of decisions and policies rooted in discrimination." There can be no more unjust consequences to discrimination than blood being actively denied. Life. Saving. Blood.

What does the White House have to say on this? Let's all sign and share the petition and find out.