By Lili Martinez
Whether you have type O, A or B blood, the Red Cross wants and needs it. After all, a pint of blood can save three lives.
Why, then, were 11 people – 33 saved lives – turned away from Kenyon’s perennial spring blood drive, on Friday Feb. 25 in Gund Commons? Ali Thieman ’13 presided over a protest in the entryway of Gund Ballroom to raise awareness of this very issue.
It all goes back to the Food and Drug Administration, which, since 1983, has enforced a ban that prohibits men who have had sex with men (MSM) from ever donating blood.
It also prevents women who have had sex with MSMs and other high-risk groups from donating for a year after sexual contact. The FDA’s reasoning behind this policy, according to its website, is: “Men who have had sex with men since 1977 have an HIV prevalence (the total number of cases of a disease that are present in a population at a specific point in time) 60 times higher than the general population, 800 times higher than first time blood donors and 8000 times higher than repeat blood donors.”
Thieman hosted the protest because “it’s … a little ridiculous to ban [MSMs] because there is a blood shortage going on, and they clearly need blood. The blood undergoes … 13 tests before it’s given to someone. It’s true that men who have had sex with men are at 50 times the risk of a heterosexual man, or of women in general, but [the rate] is still really low. Between five and nine out of 1000 queer men have HIV.”
Thieman said the protest was successful. “It went incredibly well – I’m still excited with how it went,” she said. “Everyone there really impressed me, there was a lot of energy coming from the first years and especially from [members of] Unity House.
They were all ready to go and hit the ground running and were really outgoing and energetic about it, so that was really cool.”
The protest also received support from many fronts, including the fraternity members of Delta Tau Delta, who helped host the blood drive.
“At the beginning of the protest, the person who was running the blood drive introduced himself as the president of Delta Tau Delta and he said he supported the protest,” Thieman said. “It was a friendly exchange. He said the members of Delta Tau Delta support it. I’d call it a collaborative protest, which is awesome. It exceeded my expectations.”
During the banned blood protest, Thieman and other supporters distributed bracelets of red cloth that read “BANNED” and fact sheets about banned blood.
“The American Red Cross has appealed for a lift on the ban in 2006, but was denied by the FDA,” stated one fact. Another said that the current blood shortage in the U.S. is 30,000 units.
Students passing the protest were surprised to hear about the ban, and many expressed their support for Thieman and the 11 students who were turned away.
The mood was cheery and optimistic – first years sitting at the table explained that they were there in solidarity, and one remained because he had been turned away from the drive. David Vance ’14 sported a red “BANNED” bracelet and chatted cheerfully with the other protestors.
All 11 students who were turned away had the opportunity to write their names or initials on cards with a picture of a pint of blood on them, representing the blood they could have donated.
The representation of the 11 pints of banned blood can be found hanging in the Peirce Atrium.
Students are encouraged to read the poster outlining facts about the blood ban; for more information, they can visit the FDA website at www.fda.gov.
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