The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said this week that it will not ask potential blood donors about their high-risk sexual behavior, even if the questions would help ensure the safety of the nation’s blood supply from HIV/AIDS, because heterosexual donors might find the questioning “offensive.”
This, after decades of the FDA asking male blood donors if they are gay, and then asking the gay ones whether they have had sex with men at any time since the late 1970s.
Philadelphia NPR station WHYY-FM has the FDA’s incredible comment:
“Assessment of high-risk sexual behaviors would be highly burdensome on blood donation establishments and potentially offensive to donors,” the agency wrote.
The new FDA statement comes on the heels of last week’s change in the agency’s long-standing gay-ban on blood donations. Previously, no man who had had sex with even one man since the late 1970s could donate blood. Now, under the new policy, the FDA asks male donors if they’ve had sex with another man in the past 12 months.
There have been protests against the new FDA policy, arguing that it’s outdated because blood tests can now detect HIV within weeks of exposure — so asking gay men to be celibate for a year before donating is unreasonable and unnecessary.
The protesters also asked why the FDA isn’t asking all donors about their high-risk sexual behavior — behavior that raises the chances of contracting HIV — regardless of whether the act is opposite- or same- sex. That last question is what precipitated the FDA’s new response about offending straight donors.
So to recap, the FDA believes that a total stranger asking a man if he’s gay — a highly personal, and for some embarrassing, admission that could get you fired from your job, and disowned by your family — is not “offensive.”
Nor is it offensive to ask a gay man when the last time is he screwed another guy.
But if you ask a straight man whether he’s monogamous, how non-monogamous he is (how many different partners he’s had), and whether he use condoms during intercourse, suddenly the FDA becomes a collective prude.
I try not to over-use the word “homophobia.” But the FDA’s response to this mess is deplorable, offensive, and homophobic. I’ve been through the FDA’s gay-blood-interrogation, and it was horrific.
It was the second half of the 1980s, I was very much in the closet, and in law school at Georgetown. I was years away from telling even my best friends that I was gay. There was a blood drive on campus, so I went to donate, not fully aware of the FDA ban.
Some woman I didn’t know asked me if I was gay. I was flabbergasted. I suddenly found myself between the Scylla and Charybdis of outing myself to a total stranger — when I had yet to out myself to any straight people anywhere — or lying and giving blood, even though my blood was supposedly at risk of containing HIV, and I might infect a total stranger with what was then a death sentence.
I don’t need any lectures from the FDA about what constitutes burdensome or offensive.