With New Ban In Russia Question Resurfaces: Why Are Gay Men in the U.S. Still Banned From Donating Blood?

On Monday, Russia decided to further its homophobic agenda when it announced that it would re-establish a ban on gay men and women donating blood.

Bad, right? Yup, it's pretty awful. But let's take a second to consider this: at present, and until now, Russia gave its gay population blood-donating equality. You know who hasn't let gay people donate blood since 1983? 'Murica, that's who. In spite of all of our advances towards gay rights — lifting DOMA; giving same-sex couples military benefits; legalizing gay marriage —as of yet, no one has decided that lifting the ban on gay men and women giving blood might also be a good move.

Secretary of State John Kerry wrote an open letter pushing the FDA to lift the ban back in 2010, but absolutely nothing has happened so far. Once upon a generation, nationwide terror of AIDS — at the time, anonymous, unknown, and unstoppable — was thought to be a good reason to stop gay men from participating in blood-banks. Thirty years on, things have changed quite a bit: notably, donation banks now screen blood for AIDS effectively before passing it on to hospitals. The FDA has kept the ban intact regardless.

The FDA is notoriously slow to enact changes: it took them the best part of a decade to regulate what could be labelled "gluten-free," for example, despite the upsurge in gluten allergies across the country. And they still haven't done anything about energy shots and drinks, even though they've been linked to dozens of deaths.

But this issue certainly warrants urgency. National blood donations are down by 10 percent at present, and there are shortages across the country. Of all Americans that are eligible to donate blood, only five percent do so regularly — and that number shrinks more every year. Older generations are more likely to give blood, it turns out, whereas newer generations are not. Clearly, we have a problem.

The concern, proponents of the ban argue, is the window of time between contracting HIV and having it show up in the official blood test, which may be up to a few months. The gay community is statistically more likely to contract HIV — but so is the African-American community, and there's certainly no such ban on that demographic donating. At present, any man who had had gay sex since 1977 isn't allowed to donate. If the ban were lifted and new rules were enacted to shorten the period between unprotected sex and blood donation to a few months, that would almost completely eliminate that risk factor.

Countries such as Canada, Britain, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand have all adapted that policy. Because all forms of unprotected sex are counted the same under those rules, there is no discrimination against the gay community at all — which is entirely the point. At present, the message from the FDA is clear: that the gay community is promiscuous, disease-prone, and unsafe to contribute to the medical community. For their part, The Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, and the American Medical Association have thrown their weight behind lifting the ban and changing policy.

One pint of blood is enough to save three lives. Almost everyone will need donated blood at some point in their lives: 95 percent of us, to be exact. It's hard to estimate how many lives are lost through a shortage of donated blood, but analysts say that even if the ban was adapted a little — for example, to let gay men who had not had sex in a year donate — it would bring in nearly 100,000 blood donations in a year. And that's just the start.

You can sign a petition to lift the gay blood donor ban, or find out where to donate blood here.