Ryan Bailey believes in the benefits of donating blood but his arms are tied due to regulations imposed by the Food and Drug Administration. Bailey, an area resident and Redlands business owner, is gay.
Gay and bisexual men cannot donate blood in the U.S. due to a ban set in place by the FDA in 1983, when there was no effective and simple test to detect HIV in blood. Men who have or have had sex with men at any time since 1977 are “deferred” by the FDA, meaning they can never make a donation.
So in an effort to spark change locally and stop the ban nationwide, Bailey along with friend Terri Proctor, teamed up to co-lead the Inland Empire’s inaugural National Gay Blood Drive at LifeStream’s San Bernardino Donor Center.
“It’s something that has been weighing heavy on my heart for years now–what’s the difference between my blood–change has to start somewhere,” he said.
As part of the National Gay Blood Drive, gay men visit blood drive locations with an ally or proxy — a straight friend or family member — who donates blood in their place.
Proctor made a blood donation for Bailey.
The center saw dozens of donors for Friday’s drive, 39 of which had previously made appointments as allies, including Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar.
His donation sticker read: I donated for friends, relatives and staff.
San Bernardino was one of 61 cities to participate in the effort, which launched last year as a grassroots effort in Los Angeles by filmmaker/activist Ryan James Yezak after being unable to speak to the FDA about the ban for his documentary “Second Class Citizens.”
“The policy is outdated, and as a result, otherwise eligible gay and bisexual men are unable to contribute to the nation’s blood supply and help save lives,” said Yezak in a news release for the drive.
Last year, the American Medical Association voted to end the ban, recognizing the new techniques available to detect HIV in donated blood.
According to the FDA website, the agency is willing to consider changing its policy if available data shows that lifting the ban will prove no additional risk to people receiving donated blood.
“The fact that gay men are prohibited from donating blood is something I think we need to talk about and something the FDA can and should revisit,” said Aguilar, as he sat in the center waiting after his blood donation.
“It’s an important issue in our community and I look forward to having conversations as a member of congress with the FDA about it.”
Those who were unable to give at Friday’s inaugural event in San Bernardino can still support the effort in the Inland Empire as the drive continues.
LifeStream has established a code specific to the Gay Blood Drive that allows allies to donate blood in a gay or bisexual man’s place after the event.
The aim with that, says LifeStream Vice President of marketing Piper Close, “is to take the effort a step further.”
“We don’t want this to be a one day drive,” said Close. “We are asking those who cannot donate to be recruiters for surrogates so we have significant numbers.”
Whole blood donations can be given every 56 days, Close added. Bailey, who talked with Aguilar after his blood donation, thanked him for his continued support.
“One day, I’ll be sitting there with you.”
Donations in support of the National Gay Blood Drive can be locally at LifeStream Donor Centers in San Bernardino, Riverside, Ontario and the High Desert.
To learn more visit www.gayblooddrive.com.