Gay COVID-19 Survivors Prevented from Saving Lives due to Discriminatory Blood Ban
During this global pandemic, I became infected with the coronavirus. While I felt very ill for a week, I am lucky to have completely recovered from COVID-19.
I attribute my strong and complete recovery to my leading a health conscious lifestyle, not having any pre-existing conditions, along with being physically active and fit, having a great and nutritious diet, and being informed and attentive to health and wellness. And, maybe I was also just lucky.
I know I am lucky, because I lost friends who died from COVID-19.
As I am now feeling back to normal, I want to donate blood, especially because my body has developed antibodies that can help those who are struggling with the virus.
Now, most might believe it would be easy for me to donate blood.
Yet, you might have heard of the Blood Ban.
My blood is not accepted because I am a gay man.
In US medical systems, I am labeled as MSM. MSM is the public health term referring to “men who have sex with men, also known as males who have sex with males, who are male persons who engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, regardless of how they identify themselves.”
This policy is enforced by the US Food and Drug Administration, the federal agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. In 1983, during the AIDS epidemic, the FDA initiated the ban on the blood of gay and bi men. In the 1990s this group of people was more specifically defined as the MSM population. In 2015, the policy changed, allowing this population of men to donate, but only if we abstained from sex with other men for 12 months.
During this coronavirus epidemic, with the current need for blood donations, the FDA changed the policy again. In order to encourage donations during the coronavirus epidemic, the MSM population can now donate blood, but only if we have abstained from sex for at least three months.
How are we supposed to prove that?
This global pandemic is revealing many elements in our society that are in need of repair, including social inequality. In my effort to donate blood, I have discovered another inequality. Gay and Bi men cannot give blood in an effort to help those in need and to find a treatment, unless they follow the celibacy requirement. No other group is discriminated against like this. There is not a similar requirement of women or heterosexual men.
I do not intend to divert focus from the pandemic and the greater concerns for protecting the health and safety of our population. Those concerns of course are paramount. But, just like this pandemic is revealing glaring differences in health treatment based on economic status, and even race, it is revealing glaring differences based on sexual orientation.
The Blood Ban discriminates against Gay, Bi, and all men who engage in sex with other men.
Isn’t every blood donation tested for diseases no matter who donates? Why are we being treated differently?
I thought that centers that accept blood donations might need my blood now. I am a healthy coronavirus survivor. Antibodies in my blood could be used to help seriously-ill coronavirus patients recover from the virus.
I tried. But, I was turned down. I was turned away.
Because I am gay, and because I have sex…with my husband!
Even after the fight for marriage equality, we are still seen as less than equal. Even as a legally married couple, we are still being discriminated against as less than equal. Notwithstanding, in this situation, I am discriminated against and punished as I am trying to help others. So, am I doing something lawfully wrong?
Even though the FDA guidelines now state that centers could begin accepting donations from the MSM population, if following new eligibility criteria, thousands of blood centers across the United States are still turning away men who have sex with men.
Many donation centers are still turning away potential donors because the centers haven’t updated their intake process (including health-history questionnaires, system protocol, or trained staff to do any different than what they did in the past).
Another cause of this problem lies with the AABB, also known as the American Association of Blood Banks. It is an international, not-for-profit association representing individuals and institutions involved in the fields of transfusion medicine and cellular therapy. The AABB accredits most of the blood centers in the US. It has not updated its donor history questionnaire, which also needs FDA approval. The antiquated AABB questionnaire rejects gay and bisexual male applicants.
Though the FDA is currently reviewing a new AABB questionnaire, without this national accreditation’s updated form, I was told that many donation centers are reluctant to even consider accepting donations from anything other than the system set in 2015.
With further research, I learned that the FDA has said that blood donation centers can create their own questionnaires to start accepting blood donations from gay and bi men. But, it seems very few donation centers have changed their policies set in 2015.
One would think that once the FDA approves the AABB’s new questionnaire, all blood banks would immediately start accepting blood from any donor, and treating all donors equally without any discrimination. Yet, this will not be the case, as blood donation centers will still need a great deal of time to retrain staff and correct computer systems in order to not to immediately refuse donations from the MSM population.
The truth is that blood banks, along with the FDA and AABB are reduced to expedience and are subject to political influence. So, even the centers with the best intentions are caught up in red tape and forced policies.
My experience through all of this evokes a greater concern. If these blood banks rule out the MSM population for socio-political reasons and for quick expediency, does that mean appropriate tests are not done on all blood donated? Are they even capable of doing so due to limited time and budgets? If my blood cannot be trusted, why should I trust any blood that comes from a blood bank?
In my life and career, as an actor, host, and filmmaker, I continue to advocate for marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ+ community. My efforts are focused on promoting greater and just representation and rights for all. In a situation where we stand to help others, no matter who they are, I am dismayed that we are rejected even in instances such as these. But, I am no less emboldened to continue to strive for what is right. Because I know and believe that we all have the responsibility to help each other and make this world a better place…together.
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Follow the links for Yuval’s LGBTQ Advocacy Videos
Award-winning actor, host, and filmmaker Yuval David has become acclaimed for his work, including evocative and sometimes provocative performances on screen and stage. His art of storytelling through the perspective lenses of the characters involved in the stories he shares is compelling and captivating. He transports himself and his audiences along on the journey. He skillfully conveys other perspectives as both unique and universal.
Yuval has crisscrossed screens and roles, dazzling audiences with his bold portrayals of characters on hit shows like CBS’ “Madam Secretary,” HBO’s “The Plot Against America,” and NBC’s “The Michael J. Fox Show” to “Days of Our Lives” and ABC’s popular primetime hidden-camera series, “What Would You Do,” as well as countless feature and short films, and web series.
His mission to entertain, uplift, and inspire, has led him to host, narrate, create, produce, direct, and even act in original content that is engaging and thought provoking. His unparalleled and bold work, seen across YouTube and a myriad of social media channels, includes his award-winning unscripted digital series, “One Actor Short,” as well as “What Makes You Beautiful?” “Better World” “What Are You Good At?” and “Pranks of Kindness.”
His original content (Films, Plays, and Web-series) are celebrated in US and International Film Festivals and Theatre Festivals, in which he has won numerous awards.
He currently produces almost a dozen web-series, short films, documentaries, and regularly performs his one-person shows in theatres.
He regularly travels across the United States and abroad, in recent years bringing him to the illustrious heights of Capitol Hill and to powerful major multinationals and nonprofit organizations. He often speaks about the significance of using art and creativity as a dynamic engine toward social good. Yuval empowers people to see themselves as advocates for their communities, uniting together to support their own communities and others, and seeing these efforts as equally important.