If you've ever donated blood, you've probably noticed a prominent question on a pre-donation questionnaire: Have you had intercourse with someone of the same sex since 1977? If so, yer outta luck, pal.
The law, which has been repeatedly challenged and upheld since its imposition in 1985, is purportedly to eliminate the risk of transferring HIV. However, straight folks who have had sex with an HIV-infected partner need only wait a year before legally donating blood.
Local parent Pete O'Neil, who is raising two children with his partner, said he was considering legal action against the Broward School Board after he had to
explain to his 12-year-old daughter that he wasn't allowed to donate blood "because the government thinks my blood is dirty."
O'Neil says the school was offering prizes to children who recruited their parents to donate blood, and he had to break the disappointing news to his daughter, who has Asperger's syndrome.
He wrote a letter to Superintendent Jim Notter explaining his position and got a response from Director of Athletics and Activities Damian Huttehhoff. It was surprisingly candid:
Dear Mr. O'Neil;
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter to the Superinendent of Schools regarding the blood ban policy by the FDA.
The FDA has a specific position on blood donation from men who have sex with other men. Please be advised that the School Board of Broward County does not endorse the FDA's position. However, all blood donors are required to complete a blood donor history and questionnaire. The questionnaire is developed by the United States Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of the nation's blood supply. The blood safety system established by the FDA is dependent upon honesty and integrity by the donor. To this end we applaud your action of honesty. The issue presented in your letter is of concern to the designated school system blood donor, Community Blood Centers of South Florida. The blood center opposes the FDA ban and has repeatedly lobbied the federal government to eliminate the question. Unfortunately, the universal donor questionnaire must remain in use until modified or changed by the FDA.
If I can be of any assistance, please feel free to contact me at 954-321-2550.
Director of Athletics and Activities
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"I really felt they understood what happened and it was legitimate concern on their part, not just some hack sending a letter to shut me up," says O'Neil. He says he no longer intends to sue the school district but will side with collection organizations in encouraging the FDA to change its rules.
O'Neil never showed up and tried to donate blood, so he wasn't turned away. He says some of his gay friends will donate and lie on the form about their sexual activities but says, "I'm not going to play that game. Blood is so important."