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Students protest
FDA ban on gay blood

Students protest
FDA ban on gay blood

A half-dozen Jonathan Law High School students picketed the local American Red Cross chapter in Milford, Conn., on Monday afternoon, protesting the organization's ban on blood donations from openly gay and bisexual men, the Connecticut Post reported. The protest was aimed at drawing attention to a Red Cross policy that barred Law sophomore Justin Bell from donating blood in the blood drive scheduled last Thursday at the high school.

Carrying signs that read "Blood Is Blood" and "Gay Blood Is Just Like Yours," the students said the Red Cross discriminates because if a male student admits he is gay and sexually active, his blood won't be drawn.

"We're protesting against the Red Cross because they won't let gay men give blood," 16-year-old Kaitlyn Walsh said as she raised a sign that read "Gays Have Blood Too," the Connecticut Post reported.

Bell joined the students as they stood on the sidewalk in front of the Red Cross's Milford chapter office. He said the protest was intended to raise awareness of civil rights issues facing gay and bisexual teens. Bell said questions asked about sexual activity before a donor gives blood were discriminatory. "A gay man could have the cleanest blood in our school and some girl could have really dirty blood, and they would take hers," Bell said.

The head of blood services for the Connecticut Red Cross, Paul Sullivan, said his agency follows federal Food and Drug Administration's screening guidelines. Sullivan said collected blood is tested for viruses, and that the questions concerning sexual activity are safety measures designed to protect against someone who might have recently become infected and doesn't know it. "Any test has its inherent limitations," he told the Connecticut Post.

The students argued that since all blood gets screened before being used by the Red Cross, it shouldn't matter whose blood is taken. Sullivan said the policy of excluding gay men from giving blood has been in place since the mid 1980s because of concern over HIV.

"From our standpoint, it's a public-health issue, not a social policy issue," he said.

State officials said safety measures are important to the Red Cross in order to have a clean blood supply. "They provide a very necessary service," state senator Gayle Slossberg told the Connecticut Post. "It's in everybody's best interest."

Slossberg added that because HIV no longer limited to the gay population and there is a pressing need for donated blood, the FDA should consider updating its policies. "With the greater need for blood, we should look at our policies," she said. (The Advocate)

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