Aaron Pace is admittedly and noticeably effeminate, but he says he’s not homosexual.
Still, his looks, character and behavior prompted a blood donation center to reject him when he tried to donate blood recently and he’s miffed, to say the least.
“I was humiliated and embarrassed,” said Pace, 22. of Gary. “It’s not right that homeless people can give blood but homosexuals can’t. And I’m not even a homosexual.”
Pace visited Bio-Blood Components Inc. in Gary, which pays for blood and plasma donations, up to $40 a visit. But during the interview screening process, Pace said he was told he could not be a blood donor there because he “appears to be a homosexual.”
No one at Bio-Blood returned calls seeking comment, but donation centers like it, and even the American Red Cross, are still citing a nearly 30-year-old federal policy to turn away gay men from donating.
The Food and Drug Administration policy, implemented in 1983, states that men who have had sex — even once — with another man (since 1977) are not allowed to donate blood.
The policy was sparked by concerns that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was tainting the blood supply. And, back then, screening tests to identify HIV-positive blood had not yet been developed.
Today, all donated blood is tested for HIV, as well as for hepatitis B and C, syphilis and other infectious diseases, before it can be released to hospitals. This is why gay activists, blood centers including the American Red Cross, and even some lawmakers now claim the lifetime ban is “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”
“It is unfair, outrageous and just plain stupid,” said Curt Ellis, former director of The Aliveness Project of Northwest Indiana, an agency that’s been educating the public about HIV-related issues for many years.
“The policy is based on the stigma associated with HIV that existed early on,” Ellis said. “It seems like some stigmas will just never die.”
The Indiana State Department of Health doesn’t have a policy regarding the collection of blood and its criteria. “Nor do we advise blood donation centers on their individual policies,” spokeswoman Amy Bukarica said.
But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last year voted again not to recommend a change to the FDA’s policy of a lifetime deferral for men who have sex with other men.
“The deferral of men who have had sex with other men is still in effect in Indiana and across the country — with all blood banks, not just the American Red Cross — because all blood banks must be in compliance with FDA regulations,” said Karen Kelley, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross.
“We recommended that the deferral criteria be modified and made comparable with criteria for other groups at increased risk for sexual transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections,” she added.
“While we are disappointed with the committee’s decision, our organization is obligated by law to follow the guidelines set forth by the FDA regarding donor eligibility,” Kelley said.
The American Red Cross, which supplies approximately 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply, determines a potential donor’s sexual history through standardized health and lifestyle questions in a private, confidential health history review, she said. This is similar to how other blood donation centers, such as Bio-Blood, screen potential donors.