It's 2013 and gay men in the United States still can't donate their blood. In fact, if potential blood donors are male and disclose that they've had sex with another man at any point in their lives, they're banned for life from ever donating blood.
Enter the Banned4Life Project. The project, which launched in March, is a movement that aims to lift this FDA ban. The project started after Blake Lynch, one of its founders, tried to donate blood for a friend with sickle-cell anemia. Lynch, who wasn't aware of the ban beforehand, was turned away because of his sexual orientation.
"So the policy doesn't affect [gay men], it doesn't really affect me: it affects people like Emmy who need blood," Lynch said in a YouTube video with his partner, Brett Donnelly.
Since the project's creation, the Banned4Life team has racked up thousands of signatures for their petition, hosted educational blood drives, and spoken at a slew of events according to the Orlando Sentinel.
In the U.S., someone needs blood every two seconds, but less than 10% of the population who is eligible to donate blood does so each year. The FDA places gay men alongside IV drug users and people potentially exposed to mad cow disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young men who have sex with men are the only group experiencing an increase in HIV infections. That being said, we have made quantum leaps in technology when it comes to testing blood. In 2002, nucleic acid testing was approved for use by the FDA, a test that allows scientists to precisely quantify the amount of virus in the bloodstream.
Today, it takes scientists less than two weeks to say with 99.9% accuracy if a blood sample is HIV-positive.
"The chance of an HIV-positive blood sample testing negative after the 7 to-10-day window is about 1 in 2 million," Barry Zingman, medical director at Montefiore Medical Center, told Men's Health. "That's why, if you've had unsafe sex within the past 10 days, it might be reasonable for us to send you home. But a lifetime ban — or even a one-year ban, for that matter — is kind of ridiculous."
The fear about gay men's blood stems back to the '80s when HIV-positive donors created a scare when they tainted the national blood supply.
The FDA reacted by banning men who've had sex with men from donating blood in 1983, and France, Germany, and Norway followed suit.
Though they may have had good reason to be concerned then, three decades later, the FDA needs to rethink their policy.
Even experts agree. "The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science," American Medical Association board member Dr. William Kobler told CNN.
This discriminatory ban is more than just a gay rights issue.
"Our blood can save lives," Lynch said at the close of the YouTube video.
"And our hearts can change the world," Donnelly added.
The world just has to let them.