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Louisville Activist Discusses FDA's Lift of Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced plans to recommend a change to the current blood donor deferral policy that bans men who have sex with men from donating blood.

The ban, first enacted in 1983, indefinitely barred men who had slept with another man since 1977 from donating blood. The agency cited an increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion as the reason behind the ban, which was also implemented at a time when little was know about HIV and AIDS.

The FDA will propose that the deferral period be one year since the person's last sexual contact.

Jaison Gardner, 34, is a local activist and co-host ofStrange Fruit, a podcast and radio show that airs on WFPL.

He shared his views on the FDA's decisions with WFPL.

What was your initial reaction to finding about the FDA's proposal to ease the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood?

I was certainly excited initially to hear about some easement of the regulations, but after that initial excitement I still had concerns about what remained in place in terms of them going from a lifetime ban to now a one-year ban for anyone who is sexually active.

I think that it still evokes the same amount of stigma as the lifetime ban. It says that there is still something dangerous about gay men and bisexual men—that they still don't deserve the same treatment as other folk, even folk who may have more high risk sexual behaviors.

What do you think about the current policy that bans many men from donating blood? 

I think it was an outdated policy. I don't think it was a policy grounded in science and thought. It was something grounded in fear—an irrational fear that's been around since '83 when folks just didn't know that much about the virus. I think it was high time that folks reexamined the ban, but they didn't go far enough.

I think it's ridiculous that a man can be in a relationship with another man and  be committed and practice safer sex—they consider him more of a risk factor than a heterosexual person who does not use condoms, who has unlimited sex partners. They are considered less of a risk factor than a gay man in a monogamous relationship who uses protection. I think that's absurd.

You have to judge the person based on their behaviors—on a case-by-case basis.  You assess their risk factor on an individual basis. You don't simply blanket an entire population of men as being risk factors.

Do you plan to donate blood?

I still wouldn't be able to meet the guidelines. I haven't yet had a year of celibacy. Probably most men my age—those in their 20s, 30s and well into their 40s and 50s—don't qualify. I think it eliminates probably half of the gay and bisexual male population because half of the gay and bisexual male population is still sexually active. I'll continue to protest and fight and stand against what I consider to be a discriminatory policy.