End The Bloody Ban

Gay blood donation remains prohibited.

By: PAUL SCHINDLER | The New York Blood Center, which is the primary warehousing facility serving hospitals and trauma centers throughout the metropolitan area, is reporting a potentially life-threatening shortage of available blood product. Already, Type O negative blood and Type B negative, two relatively uncommon types-both of which have less than a two-day supply available-are being rationed, curbing some elective surgery.

The Blood Center warns that the region could be just a matter of days away from those restrictions being applied to the entire blood supply.

Though downturns in blood supply are not uncommon in the immediate wake of the holiday season, the problem is more severe this year than in the past. New York faces its worst blood shortfall since the days following the 9/11 attacks.

In this context, it is worth remembering that gay men continue to be barred from giving blood, according to rules formulated by the Food and Drug Administration back in 1985, a time of frantic concern over the safety of the nation's blood supply and doubts whether it could be adequately screened for the HIV virus.

That situation has long since passed. Donations are now tested for HIV and a variety of other blood-borne diseases, but still the stigma attached to “any man who has had sex with another man since 1977” continues.

In his 1995 book “Virtually Normal,” Andrew Sullivan argued that the two main political goals of the gay and lesbian community should be the right to serve in the U.S. military and the right to marry. His view was based in part on what was probably an incorrect assessment of how difficult those goals would prove and also in his Tory opposition to identity-based politics typified for him by nondiscrimination and hate crimes legislation.

But at its core, Sullivan's argument was also based in a noble notion, predicated on his understanding of what it means to be part of a society. From that perspective, assisting in the defense of one's nation and having one's family acknowledged in law are fundamental to citizenship, separating those who belong from those who don't.

Denying access to the institutions of marriage and to military service, then, are damning indictments, signaling the gay community's disenfranchisement from the body politic and the fabric of society.

Surely, the ability to offer one's blood in a humanitarian gesture to a neighbor ranks right up there with marriage and defense of the nation. At a time when this city faces a crisis in the ready supply of life-saving blood, it is irrational to say the least to exclude gay men from making our contribution.

It is also a stinging affront that should not be countenanced.