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Looking at the Red Cross: Are the policies homophobic?

Fall is in the air once again. In addition to various campus organizations carrying on their fall events, the American Red Cross will be in town once again for its fifth annual Blood Bowl.

Every year when BGSU plays the University of Toledo, the Red Cross visits for a chance to capitalize off of students’ school spirit and make blood collection into a rivalry.

Caught up in the effort of beating the dastardly Rockets, probably the last thing on the average student’s mind is: how might my blood donation be negative?

As the stigma surrounding homosexuals begins to dissolve, a potentially discriminatory policy of the Red Cross has been slowly revealed.

Since a 1982 recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration (CNS News), the American Red Cross has asked that donors answer the following question: “[A]re [you] a male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977?” (American Red Cross).

What does this question mean? Instant dismissal for anyone who answers, “Yes.”

Why might the Red Cross turn away people for being homosexual, or bisexual? The answer lies in our nation’s history.

The policy to deny homosexual and bisexual donors was a response to a case where AIDS was given to a number of people receiving blood transfusions. This was before AIDS testing was put into place.

Since then, a number of strategies were used to make sure that such an awful thing never happens again. The policy involved exhaustive testing of blood before it is deemed safe (in this case AIDS free) to be transferred, and the screening of donors.

Today, there is a growing voice from the homosexual and civil rights communities crying “foul.” This voice is one of protest, as well as one to question why do we worry about who donates when we test all the blood anyway.

The American Red Cross has been reluctant to respond to this particular criticism; the best insight we have is intuition.

Because I would hate to think that the American Red Cross is simply prejudiced, I propose that their policy is to decrease the odds of transmitting AIDS infected blood.

The math: Tests are not 100 percent. Let’s say the tests are at least 99.99 percent accurate. The result is that if one thousand people with AIDS donate, one person’s blood will not be detected for AIDS.

To decrease the amount of infected blood, the Red Cross then has a few options: better tests, or to allow less people with AIDS to give blood. They chose the latter.

Now is where we can see the logic of discrimination become the logic of statistics.

So what is the fuss over?

Recent statistics have shown that homosexuals represent a smaller portion of those living with AIDS than in 1980 when the policy was started.

According to, 44.9 percent of the people with AIDS got it through homosexual contact. Now, at first glance this statistic seems huge, but let’s compare it to some other numbers.

According to the same source, 43.1 percent of the people living with AIDS are African American; similarly, 35.3 percent are White.

Suddenly 44.9 percent does not look so big.

Because we’re supposing that the Red Cross is basing its policies on statistics and safety, one has to ask why homosexuals are denied and not members of racial groups. Is 1.8 percent really so large?

I am not proposing that the Red Cross ought to enforce stricter policies, nor am I suggesting that any racial groups should be denied the ability to donate.

I do think, however, that the question of who gets to donate can be handled with a little more tact.

Going back to the math, an alternative way to handle the number of HIV positive candidates is to ask another question. In place of asking whether someone has had any homosexual contact, the questionnaire could ask whether the donor has ever had unprotected sex with any non-monogamous partner.

To ask the question this way not only shifts the focus off of homosexuals and bisexuals, but also halts the possibility that people who engage in frivolous, unprotected sex can donate, and allows low-risk members of the LGBT community the potential to donate where they couldn’t before.

Applying the litmus test: Would this question lead to safer blood? Probably, because it prevents frivolous homosexuals, bisexuals, and heterosexuals from donating.

Would this question shift the focus off of homosexuals and prevent civil rights outrage? The answer is decidedly: Yes!

Send comments to Chad Puterbaugh at [email protected].

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