Campbell Mayor to Host Blood Drive that Bans Him, Other Gay Men

Evan Low can host a blood drive, but can’t donate his own blood. Still, the openly gay mayor of Campbell and openly gay Vice Mayor Rich Waterman will lead an American Red Cross drive this afternoon—both for charity’s sake and to make a statement against the federal ban that prohibits men who admit to having sex with other men from giving blood.

“We can use this as an opportunity to strongly encourage the FDA to re-evaluate their policies to make them more inclusive,” Low says. “Because right now, I can host a blood drive, but can’t donate blood.”

It’s a shame, too, as there’s a desperate blood shortage for transfusions, especially in summer months when donation rates drop. Surgeries are being canceled or postponed for a lack of transfusions. One liver transplant takes up to 120 units of blood. Hospitals and the Red Cross are putting out calls for donors to step up, sometimes for last-minute operations.

“There’s a huge pool of people who want to help,” Low says. “The LGBT community wants to donate. … We’re missing out on all these potential resources.”

“The issue of donation shortages outweighs the issue at hand.”

The Food and Drug Administration adopted the lifetime ban on homosexual donors in response to the AIDS scare in the 1980s. Since then, every major blood donation organization has come out in support of relaxing the ban to a one-year deferral, the same imposed on other high-risk groups. There’s no such ban on bisexual or gay women.

“Someone who is gay cannot donate blood, but we’ve been working on changing that,” Mona Helmold, a local Red Cross representative, told San Jose Inside on her way to Low’s blood drive. “The organization would support doing away with the ban. We want to do away with it and there has been lobbying against it.”

Low wants to underscore the hypocrisy of existing policies, which allow sexually promiscuous heterosexuals to donate but bans a gay man even if he’s in a 15-year monogamous relationship. HIV screenings are a routine part of blood donation these days anyway. More than sexual orientation should determine a person’s eligibility to donate, according to the Campbell mayor.

“We strongly encourage the FDA to re-evaluate their policies to make it more inclusive,” Low says.

The Red Cross sent Low a letter asking him to host today’s blood drive not long before mid-July, when thousands of men across the nation went to their local donation center to try to give blood. They couldn’t, of course, even after presenting negative HIV test slips, so they turned in their rejection slips to the Red Cross to demonstrate how much blood the medical establishment is losing because of an outdated federal rule.

“Now we’ve seen, with the testing that we have today, that the blood pool has shown to be very safe without having to go through this regulation,” Dr. Emily Blodget, an infectious disease expert at the University of Southern California, tells USA Today. “To be honest, [HIV infection] could happen with anyone now. We need to be just as concerned with heterosexuals as homosexuals.”

WHAT: City Blood Challenge 2013
WHEN: 3pm today
WHERE: Campbell Community Center, 1 W. Campbell Ave., Campbell

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


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