In the wake of the ongoing disaster in Japan, there have been quite a few people in social justice circles making the assertion that people should divert donations away from the Red Cross, on the basis that the Red Cross has homophobic and transphobic policies. The rationale for this assertion always seems to always based upon an idea that the Red Cross bans gay men and some trans women from donating blood.
This rationale is false, damaging, and needs to stop.
The ban on blood donations from men who have/had sex with other men (MSM, which we cannot shorthand as “gay” without being very problematic) is a FEDERAL regulation in the United States, imposed by the FDA, which is the controlling government entity overseeing the blood banking industry. (Similar regulatory-agency mandated bans exist in other countries, as well, including Australia and Canada.)
The Red Cross and other blood banking organizations throughout the country lose donors because of this policy, not just MSM but “allies” who’ve decided to withhold their blood donations in some mistaken belief that it will affect change, rather than just increasing blood shortages that occur regularly and threaten lives. It is estimated that some 219,000 units of blood are not available, annually, because of this FDA regulation, between banned donors and those who refuse donation.
Accordingly, when the FDA decided to uphold the ban last fall, the American Red Cross made this statement:
“…while the Red Cross is obligated by law to follow the guidelines set forth by the FDA, we also strongly support the use of rational, scientifically-based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among donors who engage in similar risk activities.”
The phrase “deferral periods” is key in that statement. In the blood banking industry, there are many circumstances which require a person’s “deferral” from donating. Those deferrals can be from three months (if your blood iron levels are too low) to one year (the period of deferral after a new piercing or tattoo). A deferral, in industry parlance, is never indefinite or lifetime.
In addition to the MSM ban, there are currently blanket bans on anyone who has ever used IV drugs outside of medical prescription even once, anyone who lived in Western Europe for more than six month or the United Kingdom for more than three months since 1980 (including tourists and exchange students), as well as body-contact sex workers. But no one attempts to paint the Red Cross (or even the FDA) as being anti-recovering addict, anti-European or anti-sex worker, largely because those characterizations would be as misleading and false as any assertion that the Red Cross is “anti-gay and anti-trans.”
I have my pet charities, as do many, in a variety of fields. (And the Red Cross is not one of them, actually, even for disaster recovery.) I will gladly name their names and explain my reasons why, as I encourage everyone to do, when asked. But I do so having made sure of the validity behind my reasons, and I believe that this should be done if you’re going to discourage donations to an organization as well. Otherwise, you’re engaging in nothing more than a smear campaign, and your word is no longer trustworthy.