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UCF Student Campaigns to Lift Ban on Gay Blood Donation

A University of Central Florida student turned away from donating blood because he's gay is now gaining attention for his pro-active approach to the ban on blood donation by gay men. He's been organizing gay blood drives by proxy.

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[A blood drive on the Rollins College Campus]

If you took part in a recent blood drive, chances are you didn't sit next to any gay men while on the blood mobile. That's because- in a bid to protect the blood supply from HIV infection, the Food and Drug Administration barred blood donations from any man who's had sexual contact with another man. UCF student Blake Lynch didn't know about the ban when he went to donate to help a friend stricken by sickle cell anemia. He was turned away.

“I should be able to donate, and I should be able to donate for my friend, it shouldn’t be that because I’m a gay male that I can’t donate,”  he says.

Similar bans have been lifted in other countries, and support for lifting the ban here is also gaining momentum. In 2008 San Jose University banned blood drives on campus until the FDA changes its policy. But school campuses are where blood banks collect nearly 20 per cent of their donations. So Lynch and partner Brett Donnelly decded to try a different strategy. They formed an organization called Banned for Life to raise awareness about the ban. Instead of protesting blood drives, they organize them- and ask eligible donors to give blood in their place. Julianna Dubendorff signed up at a recent drive at Rollins College.

“I think it’s a great strategy because obviously, boycotting isn’t doing anything, you know, because if we’re going to boycott to raise awareness, it’s counter-productive, we’re trying to get more people to be able to donate,”  she says.

Lynch says improved testing and screening can allow gay men to donate blood while keeping the blood supply safe. OneBlood bank spokesman Pat Michaels says one day the ban could be lifted.

“Yeah, I think that potential could be there, because the blood centers around the country have been petitioning the FDA," he says.  In the meantime there's blood donation by proxy. Lynch and Donnelly say the Banned for Life blood drives are getting good response, and they'll continue to schedule more.


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