It isn't often that non-profit organizations stand in the way of people who want to do good, but the case of blood banks is particularly unique. In case you weren't aware, men who have had sex with other men since 1977 are barred from donating blood at most major blood banks, including the American Red Cross.
A nationwide movement called the Gay Blood Drive is encouraging blood banks to reconsider an outdated decision that bans most gay men from donating blood. Based on health concerns during the peak of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the American Red Cross disallowed men who have sex with other men the ability to contribute to a blood supply that is constantly in demand. Jeff Lojko organized the Dallas iteration of a nationwide event, which takes place from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. today, encouraging people to support the movement and give blood. According to Lojko, someone in United States needs a blood transfusion every two seconds, resulting in over 41,000 transfusions every day.
"The Food & Drug Administration implemented this recommendation in 1983, and it made a lot more sense back then," says Lojko. "We didn't have the appropriate testing to find certain contagions in blood, which meant that gay and bisexual men were in the highest risk category. But now the blood supply is tested for a number of diseases, not just HIV, it doesn't make sense to exclude gay men when the need is so great."
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The National Gay Blood Drive seeks to encourage people to donate blood, especially those who the health clinics won't turn away. In a show of solidarity for the gay and bisexual men who are not able to donate blood at the American Red Cross, allies who do fit the organization's archaic requirements can make an appointment in support of someone who cannot. Organizers will be on-site during the protest today to take photos and get signatures on a White House petition that urges President Obama to push the Food & Drug Administration to lift the ban.
"We're demonstrating to the FDA that there is a willingness to donate blood. There's going to be people taking pictures and filling out name cards of the people who want to donate so that there's a visual representation of the people who are being excluded," he says. "All of those pictures and names will be sent to the FDA." Dallas joins 59 other cities across the country in hosting the inaugural National Gay Blood Drive, and hundreds of people have RSVPed to open their veins for the cause.
If you're interested in donating blood to support the National Gay Blood Drive, you can visit the American Red Cross at 4800 Harry Hines Blvd from 11 am to 5 pm today. If you're worried about long lines, you can schedule an appointment to take a stand for a community that is being excluded and help people who desperately need access to blood at your convenience. Win-win. If you're not able to attend, you can sign the White House petition to lift the ban here.