Standing on the Side of Science: Lifting the FDA Anti-Gay Blood Ban
Like many Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country, my congregation—the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami—regularly hosts a bloodmobile on its campus. Since less than 10% of the U.S. population donates blood annually, the need for donations is great and every pint of blood collected from our members helps save a life.
As a gay man, however, whenever I see the bloodmobile at one of our Sunday services it feels like a slap in the face, saying to me, “You are less than worthy and not equal to others.” It also makes me feel like I am not truly welcome in a congregation that takes pride in being a “welcoming congregation.”
This is because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indefinitely bans any gay man, or man who has had sex with a man at any time since 1977, from donating blood. This regulation is based on outdated scientific data and inaccurately identifies sexual identity/orientation as high risk rather than specific behaviors.
As I have witnessed this discrimination to institutionally and continually occur within our congregation without raising awareness about the policy and without advocating for lifting the ban, it has truly saddened my heart.
However, it wasn’t until I arrived to serve as worship associate for a World AIDS Day worship service and saw the bloodmobile parked outside our sanctuary that it hit me so deeply I almost decided to tell our minister that I could not take part in that day’s service and would need to leave.
It was the height of hypocrisy for me to stand up in our pulpit and talk about the advances made in the treatment of and reduction in AIDS cases, when right outside our doors we were allowing blood donations under a policy that unfairly discriminates against an entire portion of our population simply because of their sexual identity.
It was that day that I decided to finally take action.
I asked our board of directors to suspend the bloodmobile from our property until the FDA ban was lifted. While I presented what I thought was a principled and clear request to stand on the side of equality, I was surprised that many members were unaware of the policy. We had a productive discussion about the pro’s of hosting blood drives, while also realizing that increased awareness of the policy was needed along with research on how we could adhere to our UU principles and support our LGBTQ members and the greater gay community.
While our congregation started to explore how to most effectively advocate for overturning the ban, we discovered that several other South Florida advocacy groups were starting similar efforts, including SAVE Dade, Unity Coalition | Coalicion Unida, and Banned4Life.
Our congregation recently held a LGBTQ Pride service to educate our congregation and to envision a way we can continue to host a bloodmobile while advocating for change with the co-founders of Banned4Life, Blake Lynch & Brett Donnelly, a national advocacy group based in Orlando working to raise awareness about the FDA policy and promote the importance of donating blood by encouraging eligible donors to donate blood in place of those who are Banned4Life.
We also hosted a coalition discussion where a wave of ideas were brought to life to build grassroots support, form an interfaith coalition, host days of action, lobby medical and legislative partners, work with city councils and county commissions to pass resolutions in support of overturning the ban, and explore drafting an Action of Immediate Witness for a future Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly.
According to America’s Blood Centers, if just one more percent of all Americans would donate blood, blood shortages would disappear for the foreseeable future.
I am grateful that by raising my own voice, I am adding to the larger movement to bring full equality to the LGBTQ community as well as ensure that more individuals will be able to donate blood and save lives. And, I call upon our UU movement to “Stand on the Side of Science” and add our liberal religious voice to this important cause.
This post was written by David Traupman. David is a member of the UU Congregation of Miami, Florida, where he volunteers as a worship associate. He is also a co-organizer of Biscayne Unitarian, an emerging congregation serving Miami’s urban Biscayne corridor.