On Tuesday, Jay Franzone, an openly gay man, legally donated blood. It’s hypothetically the first such donation in decades from a man who’s had sexual contact with men.
In 1983, during the AIDS epidemic, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instituted a ban on blood donation for any man who had had sexual contact with another man since 1977. Despite decades of research about HIV, the fact that all donated blood is tested for HIV, the fact that HIV can now be detected within a few weeks of infection, and the fact that virtually no one gets HIV from blood transfusions, that ban remained on the books until the end of 2015. The FDA replaced it with a rule that still discriminates against gay men by requiring them to go a full year without any sexual contact before they can donate.
Franzone, 21, decided to follow that rule.
He wanted to show how absurd such a policy was and how it still discriminates against gay men. As he explained to HBO’s VICE News, which captured his historic moment, “I can’t even get a blowjob. It’s a minuscule risk; it’s unmeasurable. So I can’t receive oral sex over the course of one year — at all — but my best friend can sleep with eight different women in a week and go donate blood, no problems — without any protection. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that.”
After last year’s tragic shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, many gay men tried to give blood but were turned away because of the policy. Just this week, the American Red Cross issued one of its all-too-frequent emergency calls for blood donors.
In an op-ed about his blood donation in Thursday’s New York Times, Franzone highlights the fact that many other countries already have policies in place that help determine high-risk sexual behaviors in donors without scapegoating all queer men. The FDA could easily follow suit, but despite recently collecting public comments about revisiting the policy, there’s no indication change will come anytime soon.
Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), who is himself openly gay, is one of the most outspoken opponents of the gay blood ban. After the Orlando shooting, he and his colleagues called on the FDA to take swift action to lift the ban. “It perpetuates a fiction that gay people are different, that our blood isn’t as good as other people,” he told ThinkProgress at the time. “It’s just another example of discrimination without any basis in science, without any nexus to blood safety. It screens out the blood of gay people, and holds them to a different standard than straight people.”
Franzone will likewise continue his work advocating against the ban as communications director of the National Gay Blood Drive, but not his abstinence — at least not intentionally. If things work out in his dating life, he won’t hold back, but if takes another month or two, he told ThinkProgress he may hold off a few weeks to donate one more time.
For those interested in fighting the ban, Franzone urges people to contact their member of Congress, invite them to join the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, and ask them for their opinion on this policy. “Don’t just settle for them telling you their position on marriage,” he cautioned. “Talk to their health staffer and really get an answer.”
“Then, let me know,” he added. “I’d love to hear from them.”