In The Wake Of Orlando, 'Blood Illumination' Event Protests FDA Gay Blood Ban
It’s been over three decades since the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and, subsequently, the the launch of the lifetime ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood in the United States. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was thought to have eased their relations with the queer community by lifting its lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood. However, there was a subtle, overtly stigmatized catch: MSM must abstain from sex for one year prior to their donation, which for many, is practically a lifetime.
With the eruption of the HIV/AIDS epidemic came the categorization of queer blood as dirty; the belief that queer blood was inherently infectious and lined with the deadly mysterious virus continues to be spread today. Yesterday, June 14th, marked World Blood Donor Day 2016, a national holiday established in 2004 to give awareness of the need for blood donations on a global scale.
The day of awareness is separated only by a few days from the brutal massacre at a gay bar in Orlando, which killed 49 individuals and wounded 53 others. Queers, like myself, were made aware of the urgent need of blood donations immediately following the domestic terrorist attack, but were unable to help because of the one year celibacy trick. Our inability to donate in a time of crisis to save the lives of those within our community is a major setback, and activists are taking every initiative to ensure this comes to an end soon.
As a reminder of this discriminatory donation policy, queer artist Jordan Eagles is resurrecting his ongoing sculpture project “Blood Mirror.” This time around, Eagles has invited 50 HIV-negative men on the HIV-preventative drug PrEP, a daily oral pill that prevents the transmission of HIV to occur, to donate vials of blood in protest of the FDA’s blood donation ban as part of a #BloodEquality event called “Blood Illumination.”
“This iteration of the [Blood Mirror] project is exclusively about PrEP as prevention for HIV,” Eagles told me at the Blood Illumination event at New York’s High Line park. With PrEP’s introduction as a public health strategy to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it’s gamely more difficult for the FDA to pigeonhole the queer community as carriers of the virus thus disqualifying them as blood donors. As Eagles added, “It’s sad how the FDA isn’t even considering PrEP when taking blood donations; it’s not a part of the conversation.”
In the wake of the mass murder at Orlando, public health advocates and activists are calling on individuals to write to their state officials and congress to help dismantle a discriminatory, dehumanizing ban that is derivative of the AIDS pandemic and based on outdated science. Queer activists involved with Blood Equality even took to City Hall in New York on World Blood Donor Day to fight against the discrimination trials gay and bisexual men face when attempting to save another’s life with a pint of their blood.
“They took the policy and essentially dressed it up in different clothing and hoped we wouldn’t notice,” Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy at Gay Men’s Health Center Anthony Hayes said of the updated ban enacted in the December of 2015. “The [people] that came together [for Blood Illumination] really wanted to galvanize the community, which is what led to the Blood Mirror. People here have literally donated their blood to become a part of the larger community’s response to an antiquated, hateful, discriminatory policy that is not based on science.
In conjugation with Blood Mirror, which will stand as a massive seven-foot-tall sculpture reflecting the images of those surrounding it with the preserved blood of the MSM upon its completion, Blood Illumination allowed passersby at the High Line the opportunity to have their photo taken against a projection of MSM blood, to show their support for #BloodEquality. The ongoing sculpture project, Eagles hints, will not be finished until the FDA’s blood donation policy is fair for all people.
“We took 50 tubes [of blood] from 50 men,” Eagles said of Blood Illumination. “50 tubes equals a full pint, which is a standard blood donation. The idea is that this is a community pint of blood ready to save a life. It’s beautiful to see a bunch of men ready to share their blood, and share their voices, and contribute as a community.”
In addition to Eagles’ contributed projection art, the evening was presented in partnership with Gay Men’s Health Crisis and FCB Health, which are both organizations with unnerving outreach plans to put an end to the AIDS epidemic while uplifting the lives of all those affected. Speakers from both organizations urged those to make a change happen–even after news coverage of Orlando simmers down. It’s only when we prioritize tearing down the limitations put on queer bodies in our post-marriage equality world, like the heavy discrimination found in housing, employment, and public accommodations based on sexuality and gender performance, will we find ourselves living in world closer to equality.
“It’s sad that it took a tragedy [like Orlando] to bring this issue to national attention,” Eagles reminded me, reiterating that “Blood Illumination” had been in the works for many months now. “This is an issue that should’ve been resolved years ago. And it shouldn’t require the death of 49 people for this to be something that needs to be talked about.”
Images via The Huffington Post
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