Each academic year, I notice a lot of foot traffic heading towards the Union Building Ballroom a few times throughout each semester, and in curiosity, I will poke my head in to see a half dozen stations set up for donating blood. These blood drives, often hosted by fraternity or sorority organizations, are well-intended civic engagement, and provide a necessary lifeline to organizations, like the Red Cross, to increase their resources for saving lives around the world.
Last week there was a blood drive in process, and I watched cheery student volunteers ask passerbyers, “Would you like to donate blood?” This instance reminded me of my time as a DePauw student (circa 2006), and of the first and last time I tried to give blood. That day I learned about a not so fun fact: because I am gay, I am banned from donating blood.
A short history lesson: in 1983, during the apex of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the FDA implemented a policy restricting any man, regardless of sexual orientation, who had sex with another man, even once, from donating blood to avoid contamination. This is despite the fact that all blood donations are mandatorily tested for HIV/AIDS.
Since then, in 2014, the FDA revised the policy to allow men who have not had sex with men in the last 12 months to donate. However, it needs to be known that this policy reinforces a tired and damaging stereotype that all gay men are promiscious, and engage in high-risk sexual behavior, which is an editorial for another day.
I share all this not for sympathy, not for attention, and definitely not to suggest we ban the beneficial practice of donating blood. Instead, I want any organizations who wish to bring a blood drive to campus to be aware that these events are not welcoming for every member of DePauw’s campus.
In 2006, I did not know about the ban, and I will never forget how I was taken aside and told that I could not give blood.I was left to endure a shameful walk away from the UB Ballroom feeling somehow less than because of a homophobic policy.
Blood donations matter, but they should also be inclusive. I hope for a day to come where this can be the case. But in 2019, I can only hope that those in the DePauw community who can donate blood take a moment to acknowledge this injustice, and perhaps heed the advice shared in last week’s editorial on the DePauw Bubble: No one can do everything, but everyone should do something. Please pop the bubble and do something.
-Neal McKinney ‘09