A few days ago, that monthly e-mail announcing the upcoming campus blood drive popped up on my screen.
"Help saves lives," it declared.
"Unless you're gay," it derided.
I then went to the Student Union to pick up some lunch and was immediately confronted by the poster announcing that same blood drive.
"Be proud," it shouted.
"Unless you're gay," it snickered.
"Be a hero," it proclaimed.
"Unless you're gay," it scoffed.
"Free Chipotle for donors," it promised.
"Unless you're gay, in which case, no beans and rice for you!" it laughed.
To be clear, I really and truly do see and hear these things when confronted with a blood drive announcement. Each and every month. And each and every month, it never fails to be humiliating, dehumanizing, embarrassing and a whole host of other alienating words. All due to the fact that I can't make it past the screening questions to donate my universal donor, O-negative blood because I have had sex since 1977, the disqualifying year in the FDA's ban commemorating the year of my birth (yes, at this point, I've personalized this ban more than a bit...).
Oh, and also, I become enraged. White hot angry. Partly at the ban, but also at the LGBT community's almost complete inability and nigh total ineptitude to mobilize an effective fight against the ban. We coalesce beautifully around marriage equality. We gather passionately to fight school bullying. Heck, we even seem to be coming together around ENDA.
But around a blood ban that discriminates against gay men on a cellular level? Around an archaic, medically-unsound policy that both metaphorically and (no joke!) biologically argues that we are less than our heterosexual brothers and sisters? It's almost like we have no clue what to do.
After 15 years of educating, organizing and ranting about blood drives, here's the small amount of knowledge I have gained.
Petitions don't work. Like, at all.
But, fine, let's live in a universe where the requisite number of signatures is achieved (that assumption being huge given that even a post from social media megastar George Takei couldn't push one of those petitions over the edge), then what? The White House comments? To say what? That this isn't a priority for them? Seriously, these online petitions just have no capacity to create meaningful change.
Banning a Blood Drive Feels Horrible.
I've been heavily involved in the successful efforts to ban blood drives on two different college campuses. It is a dreadful experience. Make no mistake: I wholeheartedly stand by my actions. When you work for an organization that sports a non-discrimination statement protecting community members on the basis of sexual orientation, you simply cannot endorse the invitation of a group on campus that discriminates against community members on the basis of sexual orientation.
That said, it's not like it is heartwarming to advocate for a ban. Even as the ultimate goal of a ban is to draw attention to discriminatory practices which, if ended, would open the blood supply up to as many donors as possible, no one working on banning blood drives raises a triumphant fist in the air as the blood-mobile sits outside the campus gates.
So Many People Don't Know About the Ban. They Just Don't.
My guarantee to you: I will share this piece on Facebook and someone will write, "Wait, what?!? I had no idea." It will then take a tremendous amount of effort to set aside my frustration and just respond, "Yes, it's real." But that's what we all have to keep doing: speaking, education, posting, ranting and advocating for change. Somewhere in all of that lies the hope that a critical mass of folks will be reached who will demand change.
True story: another professor walked into my office while I was typing this and asked about the topic of this piece. I told her the ban on gay men giving blood. She replied, "Oh, I had no idea!" Indeed.
Ultimately, this issue is about discrimination. This issue about saving lives (1.8 million lives, apparently!). This issue is about doing the right thing. And yet, we can't seem to figure out how to arrive at that place where we discard this hateful, deadly ban.
If you have ideas on how to get there, post them below. In the meantime, at least tell someone else about the ban. Chances are, they don't know.