A National Gay Blood Drive is taking place in more than 60 U.S. cities on Friday to call attention to the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s longstanding ban prohibiting gay and bisexual men from donating blood.
The drive – which is open to everyone – is organized by filmmaker and activist Ryan James Yezak with the help of local leaders and volunteers from participating cities.
Yezak hopes the effort will increase pressure on federal regulators to lift the ban against blood donations from men who have had sex with other men. He organized the drive for the first time last year when he was unable to speak to the FDA about the ban for his documentary “Second Class Citizens.”
The FDA has banned blood donations since 1977, saying there is an increased risk of exposure to and transmission of infectious diseases — including HIV — in male-to-male sexual encounters.
“The policy is outdated, and as a result, otherwise eligible gay and bisexual men are unable to contribute to the nation’s blood supply and help save lives,” said Yezak.
“In addition, the ban perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes and a negative stigma about the gay male population. The current lifetime deferral focuses on sexual orientation, and we are calling on the FDA to change its policy so that it instead focuses on sexual behavior and individual risk,” he said.
While hundreds of gay and bisexual men across the country took part in last year’s drive, Yezak was most surprised by participation from a nearly equivalent amount of allies, including lesbian and heterosexual individuals.
Inspired by their support and involvement, Yezak decided to once again organize the National Gay Blood Drive, expanding it to show broad demographic support.
This year, gay and bisexual men are asked to come out to one of 60 blood donation locations across the U.S. on Friday to show their willingness to contribute by bringing eligible allies to donate in their place. The gay and bisexual men will be able to write a message to the FDA, while the eligible allies can fill out a donor nametag with the name of the individual whose place they took.
Last year, the American Medical Association, the largest association of physicians in the U.S., said it opposed the ban, calling it outdated, discriminatory and “not based on sound science.”