Today, Tuesday, June 14, marks World Blood Donor Day 2016 -- an annual event to raise awareness about the need for blood donation on a global scale.
With less than three days between us and the massacre of 49 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community -- and wounding of 53 others -- at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the need for blood in this region of the country is still dire.
Ironically -- and tragically -- my blood and the blood of many of my queer brothers, sisters and siblings will not be accepted, despite the overwhelming need for donations.
There is still a ban on blood donations in this country from men who have had sex with men (MSM) in the past year (and women who have had sex with MSM) -- which is essentially to say that gay and bisexual men are still banned from giving blood in America.
This outdated and discriminatory policy prevents queer people from stepping forward in times of crisis -- which is particularly painful when their community is the one desperate for blood donations. Which is exactly what happened in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
The reasoning behind the FDAs blood ban is, of course, rooted in anxiety surrounding AIDS. The agency recently told The Huffington Post, “The FDA’s mission is to help ensure the safety of the blood supply. Although the current generation of HIV testing that is used to screen the blood supply is highly accurate, it is not perfect.”
While prohibiting an entire group of Americans from donating blood was discriminatory and just plain wrong to begin with, to suspect every gay man of having AIDS in 2016 -- and treating them as such -- is ridiculous.
I'm here to tell the FDA that this current policy not good enough -- and I refuse to sit by during another tragedy affecting the queer community and feel powerless to be proactive in efforts to help those affected. One of the most special things we can do as human beings is show compassion and empathy for one another – and there are few more authentic ways to do this than giving part of our bodies so we can give others a chance to survive.
In recognition of World Blood Donor Day 2016, I'm taking part in a protest of the FDA's discriminatory policy alongside 49 other men. All 50 of us are HIV-negative and on the HIV-preventative drug PrEP, a once-a-day pill that prevents the transmission of the HIV virus. And we all donated blood to artist Jordan Eagles' ongoing sculpture "Blood Mirror."
Eagle’s “Blood Mirror” is a massive seven-foot-tall monolith, ongoing in its construction, that allows viewers to see themselves reflected in the preserved blood of the MSM who have contributed to its formation.
“It doesn’t matter if you are gay, straight, male, female, young, old, or where in the, world you were born,” Eagles told The Huffington Post. “This is both an equality and science issue, that affects us all on so many levels. We have the ability to save lives and do what’s right.”
In conjunction with "Blood Mirror," some of the blood of these 50 men will be projected on the historic NYC High Line’s 14th street passage tonight as part of a #BloodEquality event called "Blood Illumination." Visitors will have the opportunity to have their photo taken against this projection and show their support for #BloodEquality when it comes to the donations of MSM.
If you are in New York City, come to the High Line between 8:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. tonight in solidarity with not only the men taking part in this protest, but those who have lost their lives because queer people were not able to donate blood in times of crisis.
Together, we can change this discriminatory policy -- and ensure that we can always be there for our queer family, in every capacity, no matter what.