I hate needles, and I've always deferred to doctors and scientists when it comes to questions of medical importance.
Suffice it to say I've been ambivalent since I was a teen about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ban on gay men donating blood.
Should I be indignant? Or would that be presumptive?
Should I be happy with my excuse not to get pricked? Or should I feel bad about not giving?
After devouring the history of the gay rights movement in college and later spending a year working closely with HIV-positive adults and children in an AIDS-ravaged rural town in southern Africa -- partly on efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission -- I'd come no closer to having an answer.
But I got a little closer this week.
On Tuesday, the American Medical Association announced its newly adopted opposition to the FDA's current lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men, as well as its support for "the use of rational, scientifically-based deferral periods that are fairly and consistently applied" to all blood donors, regardless of sexual orientation.
In other words, the nation’s medical establishment -- or at least a representative body within it -- is saying what my gay-rights-minded gut has been telling me all along.
There are moments in the lives of many gay men when the FDA’s current policy, established in 1983, slaps you in the face – reminds you that you’ve been marked by society, categorized, demographically contained.
It’s awkward on the street or at a festival or on a college campus when a chipper young Red Cross worker walks up to you and says, “Will you donate blood today?”
You don’t know whether to say, “No, thanks,” and sound like you’re not interested in doing your part to help others, or “I’m not allowed,” and risk starting a conversation you don’t want to have.
Almost as awkward is when the email lands in your inbox from your employer, about a blood drive being hosted at your work place, asking you to “help give hospitals what they need the most.”
Everyone will get a free T-shirt that reads, “Be Extraordinary!”
Some of your colleagues know why you don’t head downstairs, you think. But others are saying, “That guy totally didn’t give.”
This isn’t much of an argument for or against the FDA ban. I don’t feel like I should give one. Instead, I’ll leave it to AMA Board Member William Kobler, M.D.
“The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” he said in a statement this week. “This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.”