Houstonians join first-ever gay blood drive demonstration

Activists raise awareness about federal ban preventing gay, bisexual men from donating blood

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - A Houston man is leading the nation's first ever gay blood drive demonstration.

Activists are trying to raise awareness about a federal ban preventing gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

The FDA ban was put into place into 1983, stating that any man who has had sex even once with another man since 1977 cannot ever donate blood. It came about at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Houston documentarian Ryan James Yezak issued a call to action, rallying the nation to peacefully demonstrate against the FDA ban.

In a YouTube video, Yezak said, "It is discrimination based on sexual orientation."

Houstonian Jonathan Stansbury joined demonstrators outside the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center for an onsite rapid HIV test to show he's HIV negative.

"I think it really is archaic," Stansbury told Local 2. "I think it's outdated and the science has proved it's not necessary. I've been in a monogamous relationship for two years, engaged for one and I'm STD free. I got tested, I went to donate and they still banned me from donating."

Potential donors are asked some 40 screening questions including about IV drug use and sexual orientation.

Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center Medical Director Dr. Beth Hartwell explains.

"Along the same lines if you've injected IV drugs, if you've had malaria we ask you not to donate, so the individual then self defers at that time and goes no further they do not donate blood at that time," said Dr. Hartwell.

The FDA states gay men are at an increased risk for infectious diseases, including AIDS.

Dr. Hartwell said at the Blood Center, their focus is ensuring a safe and adequate blood supply.

"Recently, we support the joint statement that has been made by the American Association of Blood Banks, Americas Blood Centers and the American Red Cross to revisit that ban and to modify it," Dr. Hartwell added.

Emily Martin, Houston Coordinator of the National Gay Blood Drive told Local 2, "(The ban) perpetuates the stigma that all gay men have AIDS and it also dangerously perpetuates the idea that only gay men have AIDS and those are just not the case."

She added that following the demonstration, "Nationally, all the people who've attempted to donate today, we're going to take those results to the FDA to try to show on a national level how much blood the gay community could contribute to the blood supply."

Houston director Ryan James Yezak is capturing the demonstration for his upcoming documentary called "Second Class Citizens."

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