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A Stepping Stone to Equality

As we celebrate recent milestones in the fight for Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transsexual equality in the United States, discriminatory practices against the queer community remain insidiously ingrained in the fabric of our society. One of which, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ban on blood donation by men who have had sexual contact with another male, perpetuates the perspective that the male homosexual population is inherently “at increased risk” for infected donations and should be disallowed from giving plasma.

The FDA rationalizes its position on men who have sex with men (“MSM”) through the claim that this group has the highest incidence of Human Immunodeficiency Virus and is therefore excluded due to safety precautions. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control found that 19 percent of the MSM population in 21 major U.S. cities was infected with HIV. Seemingly, this would provide a solid, impartial warrant for the FDA’s stance. However, if we contextualize the transmissibility and prevalence of various blood-borne illnesses, there is an unquestionable lopsidedness in the qualifications for blood donation. For example, in 2008, state prisoners in California filed a federal lawsuit, citing that as many as 40 percent of California prison inmates become infected with hepatitis C; however, the FDA has no restrictions on former inmates donating plasma. Further, if the FDA seeks to ban certain distinguishable groups in the interest of risk management, why is sexual orientation a target while race is not? Demonstrating this disparity, Hepatitis B, classified by the World Health Organization as 50-100 times more infectious than HIV, is carried by much as 20 percent of the population in East Asia. Should, then, the FDA prevent East Asian immigrants or descendants from donating blood due to the “increased risk” of hepatitis B infection? No—racial discrimination in the name of “risk management” would be unacceptable. Similarly, excluding the MSM population from donation due to a statistical likelihood that mechanically classifies an individual’s blood as empirically “riskier” is inadmissible.

In June 2010, a Health and Human Services Committee recommended that the FDA uphold the ban established in 1985. Ultimately, the panel concluded that allowing MSM to donate plasma still poses a risk to the safety of the blood supply. However, as the Red Cross reported in September that it could only cover 45 percent of its daily blood needs for medical procedures and emergency situations, equal opportunity must be given a fair chance. A report published by the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law estimated that an additional 219,000 pints of blood could be made annually available if the ban on MSM donations were lifted. Indeed, the dire shortage necessitates a reexamination of the antiquated perception that those who engage in gay sex are somehow tainted or substandard. The FDA must shed the 1980s pre-Lawrence v. Texas ideology that the homosexual lifestyle is one that inherently guarantees hazard and immorality.

At Harvard, we unknowingly come into contact with this mentality. As the 2011 Harvard-Yale Blood Drive begins on January 31st, institutions of higher education have once again graciously opened their arms to blood centers. Though these drives serve an important cause, this continual welcoming subverts the very principle that Harvard and its leaders have defended in the past—the belief that any organization that operates within the university must be inclusive and non-discriminatory. In that sense, the Harvard College Red Cross seems to institutionalize the same recently discarded notion of the ROTC.

The idea that a queer male should be restricted from participating in any campus activity, whether it be donating blood or enlisting with the ROTC, must always be challenged in order to uphold our university’s maxim of equality. However, a firm campus-wide ban on blood centers is neither a practical nor productive solution to this obstacle. Rather, the university must join in the fight against misinformation and inequity by employing its vast resources of intellect. Those who have the responsibility for knowledge and reason must disseminate both the statistical and moral truths. It is the duty of not only our science-based departments, but also our LGBT advocacy centers to speak out against the conception of homosexuality as a confinement.

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A multitude of legal, religious, and organizational limitations have all synthesized to paint the image of the gay individual as intrinsically inferior. Each one of these restraints must be met with outrage. The queer community finally has attained the long overdue right to serve openly in the military, and we are actively engaged in the fight for universally recognized marital rights. However, we must not overlook the multiple dimensions that exist in the quest for equality.

Saieed Hasnoo ’12, The Crimson's associate business manager, is an Economics concentrator in Currier House.

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