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Commentary: It’s In Our Blood


By Ryan M. Leach

I am gay and I grew up in Texas so I know a back-handed compliment when I hear one. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a back-handed compliment is like the pox-infected blankets that were offered to the Native Americans in the 1700’s. It seems like a nice gesture at first and the next thing you know…genocide. Perhaps this analogy is a bit hyperbolic but you get the point.

On December 21, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the gay and bisexual community a big stack of pox-infected blankets when they relaxed their policy banning gay and bisexual men who have sex with men from donating blood. The new policy would lift the permanent ban on donations from gay and bisexual men but only if they do not have sexual contact with another man for at least one year. I think the following letter would have been more apropos.

Dear Faggots,

Congratulations! You can donate blood now. One catch, don’t have sex for one year, okay? No big deal. Also, you’re welcome.



P.S. – Did I spell “Faggots” correctly?

Since 1983 gay and bisexual men have been banned from donating blood. The ban was originally meant to be permanent as many erroneously attributed the transmission of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) to gay and bisexual men who have sex with men. History has shown us that HIV, unlike the FDA, does not discriminate. For years medical groups and gay-rights activists have tried to persuade the FDA to drop the discriminatory and unnecessary ban because all blood donations are screened for HIV as well as many other diseases before the blood is used.

The FDA argues that the one-year celibacy requirement is necessary and will allow the blood supply to continue to be protected. To me this sounds as ridiculous as having the ban put in place to begin with. Gay and bisexual men who have sex with men are not a different species. We don’t get different types of colds and flus than the rest of the population. I don’t have to go to a doctor that specializes in gay anatomy and physiology, and yet, for some reason, I still am regarded as being fundamentally different.

Some would argue that the relaxing of the ban is progress and that we should be patient because the world is coming to understand gay and bisexual men are no different from anyone else. I think there is something sinister in this policy change. The FDA is saying that in order for me be regarded as a normal human being that can donate blood in America the only thing I have to give up is sex. This is a parallel argument to what some conservative and religious fundamentalists tell me. In order for me to be accepted in society and go to heaven I just can’t have sex any more. Be gay, just don’t act on it. The terms and conditions of this “acceptance” are unacceptable.

If the price of being treated like everyone else is that I have to give up the freedom to live my life like everyone else then that is not progress. This policy change offered by the FDA is in no way a progressive move in favor of gay rights. It’s just a pox-infected blanket that if accepted will only get us sick. The ban for all intents and purposes is as in effect as it ever was.

Gay and bisexual men who have sex with men did not create HIV. We are not responsible for the epidemic that has killed millions. We should stop being blamed (and accepting the blame) for this disease. We should stop being punished (and accepting the punishment) for its devastating effects. I’d rather freeze with my principles than die wrapped up in the placating warmth of a blanket that is slowly killing me.


Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at
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