In what has become a nearly annual controversy since 2003, blood drives hosted by the Southern Oregon chapter of the American Red Cross on Southern Oregon University’s campus continue to be banned because of what many students feel are discriminatory policies.
The student-led ban, which started in 2003, comes from concern voiced that year by members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Student Union (LGBTSU, now known as the Gender Sexuality Union) over allegedly discriminatory blood-screening policies of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which control what blood donations the Red Cross can accept.
The controversy was raised again in March 2008 when members of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, who even now express ongoing interest and support for continuing blood donations on campus, hosted a Red Cross blood drive at the McNeal Pavilion.
The FDA policy states that they will not accept blood donations from men who have had sex with men or from women who have had sex with these men, due to “an increased risk for the presence of and transmission of certain infectious diseases, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS,” according to the administration’s website.
“It’s kind of a ridiculous argument in my perspective,” said Janelle Wilson, coordinator for SOU’s Queer Resource Center. “HIV is not solely based on male-to-male sex. We know that now.”
“I believe it is a very good thing that the Red Cross is not here, because until the Red Cross changes their opinion on queer people using blood, they have no place on our campus,” said Zach Wood of the QRC.
But other students are directing criticism at higher levels of government policy rather than the individual agencies the policies control.
“Technically, the Red Cross is just following FDA policy,” noted Robin Day, a video production major. “The FDA is basically shooting themselves in the foot on this. It is an entirely pointless and frustrating policy.”
The Pacific Northwest Blood Services Region of the American Red Cross said they are eager to engage in discussions with student groups and faculty at the Southern Oregon University while working on their behalf to push for deferral policy reform.
“The Red Cross intends to continue to work through the American Association of Blood Bank to press for donor deferral policies that are fair and consistent and based on scientific evidence, while protecting patients from potential harm,” said Daphne Mathew, communications manager for Pacific Northwest Regional Blood Services.
“We believe the current lifetime deferral for men who have had sex with other men is unwarranted and donor deferral criteria should be modified and made comparable with criteria for other groups at increased risk for sexual transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections,” Mathews added.
Wilson agrees that the issue goes beyond individual organizations.
“At the end of the day, the FDA policy means that that there will be discrimination from the Red Cross. The question is how can we respond to that and be proactive? Our issue is not directly against the Red Cross itself. The bigger issue is around any organization that discriminates against us and our students.”
Red Cross blood drives are currently offered very near the SOU campus, and the Red Cross encourages student and faculty participation. The FDA’s policy regarding blood donor eligibility can be viewed online at www.fda.gov.