All Blood is Created Equal

By Guest Contributor

We are the co-chairs of the Middlebury Open Queer Alliance, each affected personally and practically by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans enforced at American Red Cross blood drives. The accounts below are our personal reflections.

Petr Knor ’15:

Each of us has approximately five liters of blood. I am sorry to those who don’t understand liters, but in a country where the Red Cross places Oman, Nigeria and the U.K. into the same group, nobody cares about distinction. Most of us need those five liters to wake up in the mornings. Nobody has found a substitute for this magical liquid, so we rely on blood from others.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration defines who can donate blood. Have you had gay sex? Or had sex with a man who did? Gotten a tattoo in the past year? Lived in the U.K. and just in London? You are too dangerous. It doesn’t matter that all blood gets screened, that only eight million Americans donate, that most are over 50 and that the demand for blood increases annually by six percent. There are big blood shortages. The FDA still follows a policy from the 1980s when HIV testing almost didn’t exist. It doesn’t matter that HIV testing is almost 99.9 percent accurate. But there is some hope. In June 2012, 64 U.S. legislators sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services. For me, it is not just about morals and discrimination. It’s about being rational. We need gay men to donate blood — they would bring some 89,000 donations annually. I bet you would rather live with some gay blood in your body than sleep forever. We need gay men because we fear needles.

Emma Ashby ’13:

Middlebury has a commitment to international students, as we students are many times reminded:  “Sixty percent of Middlebury students study abroad;” “We are a globally-minded school;” “we have civilization requirements.”  Then what are we saying to those who have lived in one of the eight Sub-Saharan countries that the Red Cross refuses blood from? We promote the on-campus activities of those who put a blanket ban on donations from those who have traveled to or are “immigrating from … areas with a risk of malaria,” as well as stepped foot into a country that has ever fried a mad-cow burger. What right does the Red Cross have to lump together England, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, Oman, Turkey and European countries, as if they were all the same size or had the same characteristics? And, what right do we have to bring in an activity promoted as a moral responsibility of college students, but that shuns all those who took seriously Middlebury’s urging to see the world?

The call for blood does not fall under “recruitment,” and instead is put into a grey category under Middlebury’s handbook, which forbids discrimination. Certainly, no one could argue that blood donation is not a worthwhile cause. But we, as a community, need to seriously consider how the Red Cross defines “good” versus “unworthy” blood donors. Is it fair to bring onto our campus, a place we have worked so hard to make into a haven of equal opportunity, this sort of inherently hierarchical system?

An Anonymous Member of MOQA:

I am a blood donor. I am also a gay man. When I or any out gay man walks into a blood drive, all our friends, co-workers, professors and acquaintances present immediately know one of two potential truths about us: either we are lying to the American Red Cross in order to donate, or our sex lives are very … solitary. I cannot help but look around McCullough and wonder what people are thinking about me while I donate. I see students in similar positions to myself — gay men, international students from banned countries and others. What assumptions are being made about them? Thanks to the FDA ban on donations from these large swaths of the Middlebury community, the decision to donate becomes one of opting out of helping people in need or revealing your personal history to all present who know you.

In my four years at Middlebury, administrators and the Commons Councils who organize blood drives have never once to my knowledge publicly addressed the discriminatory nature of the FDA ban. While our non-discrimination statement only applies to extracurricular activities and on-campus recruiters, I challenge anyone to argue that Middlebury is not breaking with an expressed set of values every time the American Red Cross truck pulls onto campus. I am not advocating that we ban blood drives — this punishes people who need donations. But our community needs to acknowledge the decision to overrule its respect for diversity for the sake of donating blood. We owe it to every potential donor barred by the FDA.

Written by members of the MIDDLEBURY OPEN QUEER ALLIANCE