The American Red Cross will be on the Downtown Campus of West Virginia University Tuesday for a blood drive as a part of the Dancing With Our Mountaineer Stars competition.
The blood drive, which will be held in the Mountainlair Ballrooms Saturday 1-7 p.m., will allow supporters to donate under the name of the couple of their choice.
Ben Seebaugh, SGA vice president, and his dancing partner Katie Heller are among the couples who must get a minimum of 10 people to donate on their behalf. However, the current policies of the American Red Cross deem Seebaugh ineligible to be a donor because of his sexual orientation.
“The Red Cross has a discriminatory policy which doesn’t allow men who have had sex with men, or anyone who has had sex with a man who has (also) had sex with a man to donate, so that precludes me,” Seebaugh said. “I am a universal donor because I have O negative blood, but they won’t take it.”
Seebaugh said while they are encouraging people to donate, they also hope those who know they will be denied to turn out for the blood drive as a way to take a stand against a policy they feel is unjust.
“The Red Cross and their goals are great and giving blood is great, so we are encouraging people to go and give blood if they are eligible, but also we want to draw attention to this issue,” Seebaugh said. “Even those who know ahead of time they will be denied due to sexual orientation, we are encouraging them to go and try as a way to bring attention to this issue.”
On June 11, 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability voted against recommending a change to the Food and Drug Administration’s policy of a lifetime deferral for homosexual males.
The FDA determines donor eligibility requirements, and the American Red Cross is then required to follow their decisions.
Trang Huynh, an American Red Cross donor counselor, explained the policy as a way for their organization to err on the side of caution and explained the organization also realizes blood diseases can affect anyone.
“According to the CDC and the FDA, those who practice male-to-male sex present more risks to be exposed to the diseases than any other group of the population,” Huynh said. “No matter how often a person donates, every single donation is tested before it is shipped to a hospital for any type of blood transfusion. Although we have very extensive technology to detect disease in the blood, there is what we call a window period, which is the time period after sexual activity and the time when a disease can be detected.”
In June 2013, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to oppose the FDA policy, calling it “discriminatory and not based on sound science.” The AMA also urged a change to the federal policy to ensure blood donation bans are applied to donors based on individual level of risk instead of sexual orientation alone.
According to a statement listed on the American Red Cross website, “the Red Cross does support the use of rational, scientifically based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among donors who engage in similar risk activities. We will continue to work through the American Association of Blood Banks to press for donor deferral policies that are fair and consistent and based on scientific evidence, while still protecting patients from potential harm.”
Heller said while she and Seebaugh do not want this to be a boycott, their aim is to simply raise awareness for those who desire to donate yet are not permitted to do so.
“We hope to be able to keep track of the number of people who were willing to donate blood but were turned away because of an archaic policy,” she said. “By raising awareness on those numbers and how many lives they could have saved and making that known, we hope it has a big effect.”