If you support skeptical inquiry, enjoy polemics and crave iconoclasm, then I hope you appreciate my attempts at all three this semester. My goal is to elicit your response whether or not you support what I write. I want to persuade you. If I don’t succeed, comment or email and tell me why.
This past week, V.P. of Student and Academic Services, Susan Murphy ’73, sent an email to the Cornell community detailing a crime that took place involving homophobic slurs. She wrote, “Cornell University deplores incidents such as this that tear at the fabric of respect and inclusiveness that we value so highly and work continually to maintain.” She concluded the message by saying, “I want all to know that we will continue to work … to create a bias-free environment where all of us can feel safe, welcomed and respected. I am asking for your ongoing support in that effort.”
So, as a show of my support, I urge Cornell to ban on-campus blood drives until the FDA revises its rule that bans gay men from donating. This ban conflicts with the University’s own Equal Education and Employment Opportunity Statement, which says: “No person shall be denied admission to any educational program or activity … on the basis of any legally prohibited discrimination involving, but not limited to, such factors as … sexual orientation …”
As it stands, men who admit to having had sex with a man at least once since 1977 are not allowed to donate blood. This discrimination limits supply despite frequent shortages. According to the American Red Cross, which supports lifting the FDA’s ban on gays, we face the worst summer donation shortage since 1996. The policy also lends credence to the myth that HIV/AIDS is a gay-only disease.
Cornell has two choices: Either ban blood drives until the FDA complies with the University’s own non-discrimination policies, or amend the University’s policies to allow for discrimination against gay people so long as the organization doing so supports an otherwise worthy cause. Good luck defending the latter.
According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, three to eight percent (about 1,700 Cornellians) of the population is gay. That’s a whole hell of a lot of unnecessarily neglected blood — about 219,200 pints from likely donors, according to the Williams Institute.
Donated blood is already tested for HIV/AIDS. Why not ban those who have not been tested for the disease recently from donating, or shorten the lifetime ban to a year as numerous countries have done and science seems to support?
The fact is, the FDA’s policy isn’t logical, it’s homophobic. The U.K. and South Africa both determined that a lifetime ban is no longer justifiable. Instead, The U.K. implemented a one-year deferral since donors’ most recent male-male sexual encounter, and South Africa settled on a six-month moratorium.
And it’s not as if gay males are the only group disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. African American men accounted for 47.9 percent of new AIDS diagnoses in 2009, according to AVERT.org. Instead of excluding all black Americans from donating blood, the FDA takes steps to eliminate HIV/AIDS from donations, which works well. Why not treat gay men similarly?
Disallowing openly gay men to donate blood is no different than the recently repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. It doesn’t actually keep gay men from donating blood; rather, it makes them think twice about expressing to the government who they are. It is a remnant of what I hoped was a bygone era of de jure discrimination that apparently still unnecessarily stigmatizes and alienates minority groups.
Before the charitably-minded decry my recommendation as misguided, look back to how you reacted when the president of Chick-Fil-A came out against gay people. Many of you vowed never to buy another of his waffle-fry specials. Your stance on banning campus blood drives shows whether you are against all unnecessary discrimination — even when it’s carried out by a cause you otherwise support — or instead, only when the consequence is to drive to KFC.
The FDA should focus on increasing the accuracy of blood tests, which are already incredibly reliable (they fail to detect less than one in one million tainted donations according to the FDA) instead of encouraging citizens, who want to save lives, to lie. Until then, Cornell must uphold its commitment to nondiscrimination and ban campus blood drives.
Allowing campus blood drives that discriminate against people who are gay supports equality like a noose supports a hanging man.
S.D. Seppinni is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters from a Young Curmudgeon appears alternate Mondays this semester.