The Red Cross estimates that every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood. But if you’re a man who’s had sex with another man at any time since 1977, you can’t donate.
The FDA ban on donations from men who have had sex with men has been enforced since 1983. But the policy, from the years when the AIDS epidemic first took hold in public consciousness, is based on a person’s sexual orientation, rather than behavior. Since then, activists and medical professionals have called the rule both discriminatory and unnecessary—and in June of 2013, the American Medical Association voted to get rid of it.
The Department of Health and Human Services is still conducting studies to investigate whether the country’s ban should be overturned, according to the FDA. But Ryan James Yezak, a gay rights activist perhaps best known for his viral music video remakes, is organizing a demonstration asking for the outdated rule to be done away with quickly and permanently. July 12 (today) is the day Yezak has designated as the National Gay Blood Drive, when gay male donors will attempt to donate blood.
"We don’t want to exhaust resources of blood donation centers, but we’re here to raise awareness," Yezak explained. After donors get tested at a mobile HIV rapid testing unit, Yezak’s volunteers will usher them to the blood donation center, at which point donors will tell receptionists they’re non-reactive and ask to give blood. "They’ll either say no, or refer them to a deferral list," Yezak explains. "I envision a lot of people coming out across the country who are eligible to donate, and can’t because of their sexual orientation."
Yezak isn’t the first to protest the FDA ban. For years, universities across the country have held blood "sponsor drives," in which straight students have donated blood in the names of homosexual peers who were forbidden from doing so. But Yezak hopes the National Gay Blood drive will send a more visual message to the FDA—after being rejected, Yezak and his volunteers will send all of the gay donors’ negative test results to the FDA in a demonstration of how much blood the agency is missing.
Yezak says he still needs straight allies to volunteer. So far, more than 600 donors have signed on to give blood through his website, along with 160 helpers. If you’d like to donate blood and send in your negative HIV test result, you can keep tabs on Gay Blood Drive locations in more than 50 cities here.