As The Advocate recently reported, the Food and Drug Administration may review its ban on blood donations by gay and bisexual men. And many of us have probably signed a petition or “liked” a Facebook status denouncing the ban. But before railing against the policy, let’s first consider that the ban symbolizes the gay community’s connection with HIV/AIDS. Let’s think through the implications of parting with such a symbol.
If we are a people with any sense of communal identity, then the epidemic is, however tragically, a part of that identity. Gay men, regardless of serostatus, must reconcile themselves to the disease. And the ban, in lumping us together, attests to that shared experience. Overturning the ban would distance certain gays from a phenomenon that currently defines us all; it would publicly separate those who are HIV-negative from those who are positive; it would symbolically change our communal identity. What’s at stake, then, is the very meaning of being gay.
HIV/AIDS is inseparable from gay history. Roughly 300,000 of our brothers have died. These men died not simply because of a disease but because of this homophobic society’s genocidal neglect of gay people. And progress in treating the illness has come almost entirely because of the courageous activism of LGBTQ people and allies. The history of this disease is our history. We cannot simply “move on,” and we cannot grant an unwarranted reprieve to the guilty.* Indeed, America has enough of our blood on its hands, and the dead still ache for justice. The ban stands as a monument to the oppression of gay people, and to our resistance. It helps us fulfill our ethical obligation to remember the past, and it maintains our history as a part of our identity. Parting with the ban does not come without a cost.
* There is an ethical value to resentment, as philosophers like Jacques Derrida and Vladimir Jankélévitch have written in their discussions of the Holocaust. Refusing to forgive injustice is, for these thinkers, the most ethical way to relate to the past. To simply “move on” is an outrage against the dead.