Next week Columbusis going to be host to an extremely exciting and very important event that I’ve been dying to talk about for weeks. Outlook Weekly and the American Red Cross are boldly joining forces to present a positive protest against the age-old ban against gays donating blood.
For 30 years now, if a man makes it known during the donation screening process that he’s slept with another man at any point after 1977 he is put on the “permanent deferral” list and banned from donating blood ever again.
The policy is based on outdated HIV/AIDS statistics that no longer hold water. A gay man in a monogamous relationship is far less likely to be infected than a straight female in an open marriage, but under the policy, the blood of the female would be readily accepted.
Brothers in Blood is definitely unprecedented. For many years the response to the ban has been for gays and gay allies to simply ban Blood Drives, which seems silly when you think about the fact that each donation saves three lives. Those dying from blood bank shortages would be the only people affected by a boycott. It’s a sentiment Mackenzie “Ken” Worrall, the main organizer behind Brothers in Blood, latched on to and ran with.
I spoke with Ken, a fellow journalist and friend (who wrote an amazing piece, titled “Do we not bleed,” for Outlook this month), about the event and how it came to be.
“I went to [Michael Daniels, Outlook co-owner/publisher] when I was still interning at Outlook and told him I wanted to plan some kind of activism event that gays, especially gay youth, could get involved with and excited about,” he said. “Olga Kooi, a friend of mine from high school, who used to work with Outlook, told Michael she was moving on to work for the American Red Cross…that’s when Michael got this great idea and I just ran with it.”
“I’m calling it a positive impact event,” he said. “Instead of having my friends boycott blood drives, and keeping people from saving lives, why not gather a bunch of people to donate for me.”
And that’s the main premise of BIB. Though, it is a blood drive (at which out gay men can still not give blood) it gets gays and allies in a room to discuss this issue and start a continuing conversation on how in can be changed.
Ken also said the event will not just be a blood drive. Another amazing thing about this event is the support it’s getting from the city. The list of sponsors is too long to print. There will be free food from various local vendors, including brownies from Sugar Daddies, a fact Ken is particularly excited about. (“You can’t have a blood drive without brownies.”) Also he’s got some live jazz planned and is in the process of adding a live band or some other live music element to the mix.
“It is an event,” he said. “Want people to socialize and talk. Those who can’t donate can sign up for our listserv and we’ll contact them to donate once the ban is lifted, those who can donate can go to another line and prepare to donate, then everyone meets in the food area to discuss the ban. I’m all about breaking down barriers.”
The Columbus Dispatch ran an article yesterday about the event and the ban, in which it mentioned an interesting fact I was unaware of. Apparently the FDA is looking at alternatives to the band and one alternative is to replace the “permanent deferral” with a “12-month deferral,” which means a man is unable to donate for a year after a sexual encounter with another man.
I still think this stinks of discrimination (like civil unions instead of gay marriage), but as Ken said, “I think they should definitely look at how they judge that, because there actually a lot of gay men who are monogamous. But I do think it’s a goods step in the right direction.”
There are other strides being made. The American Red Cross of Central Ohio is completely backing Brothers in Blood and its efforts, and heads of the national American Red Cross have also gone on record supporting a change to the ban. Ken also mentioned that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius had just recently set out concrete steps to reevaluating the ban.
I’m so excited for this event. Kudos to Ken and Outlook for revolutionizing the way we respond to this very important dilemma.
Brothers in Blood is 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13 at the King Arts Complex, 867 Mt. Vernon Ave, Columbus. This is a free event! Get more information at the Brothers in Blood Facebook event page.