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Standing on the Side of Science: Lifting the FDA Anti-Gay Blood Ban

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Jul 23, 2013

This post was written by David Traupman.

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 This regulation is based on outdated scientific data and inaccurately identifies sexual identity/orientation as high risk rather than specific behaviors.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.

UU Miami board member Luigi
Ferrer, Banned4Life co-founders Brett Donnelly and Blake Lynch, and LGBTQ Pride worship service coordinator David Traupman.

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.

3 Responses to “Standing on the Side of Science: Lifting the FDA Anti-Gay Blood Ban”

  1. Stacy Thibert says:

    I think it is a great thing you are doing, and long overdue.
    I think, however, it strengthens your argument to mention that the American Medical Association also opposes the ban on gay blood donors.


    Good Luck on all you endeavors.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this powerful testimony and the wonderful work you are doing to raise awareness.

    Not only are men who have had sex with a man since 1977 banned, but anyone who has had “sexual contact” in the last year with a man who has had sex with a man since 1977 is banned from giving blood by the Red Cross. To give blood you have to sign off on not having had “sexual contact” within 12 months with someone who (a) has ever used needles to take drugs, steroids, or anything not prescribed by their doctor, (b) is a male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977, or (c) has ever taken money, drugs or other payment for sex since 1977.

    This offense and problematic policy lifts up the widespread and systematic nature of the stigmatization and criminalization of these three groups of people in our culture. Even people who have had “sexual contact” with anyone in these three groups are banned from giving blood.

    End the ban and end the stigma!

  3. William Turner says:

    I fully agree that we all, whatever our orientation, race, ability or persuasion are morally bound to do the right thing by opposing the FDA ban on blood donation acceptance by gay men and those in “contact” with gay men. I think that an intermediary step, while getting the FDA ban lifted, is donating blood in the name of someone who is presently banned. But this is not enough and we all need to actively engage in the struggle to gain full equality and to break the cycle of stigmatizing homosexuality. I am willing and informed about the unscientific nature of this prejudicial ban. Let’s do it.

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