Allies stand in as blood donors for gay men

Posted: July 14, 2014

WHEN JANIS Geraghty, of Bridesburg, speaks of her son Michael, her eyes well up with tears of pride.

"You meet him, you will love him; everybody loves him. But if you mention he's gay, some people back off," she said. "As a mother, I will do whatever I can to support him . . . anything."

Yesterday, part of that support meant standing in for her son at a blood drive, where she donated for the first time.

At the Philadelphia Donor Center, on Spring Garden Street near 7th, gay and bisexual men from across the city came with allies to donate blood in their places as a part of the National Gay Blood Drive. The drive was held to protest the Food and Drug Administration's ban on male donors who have had sex with other men.

The event, which is in its second year, was organized by filmmaker Ryan James Yezak and occurred in more than 60 cities across the country. Locally, the drive drew 45 donors.

"This [ban] is from back in the 1980s when [AIDS] was all brand new," said Geraghty, 48. "We are in 2014 now.

"They test the blood and it's safe. It's just stereotyping," added Geraghty's neighbor, Deidre Allen, 35. "[Gay] people are normal people, too."

Participants were asked to sign a White House petition for the cause and write messages to the FDA, urging it to reconsider the ban , said Kyle Diaz, 22, who headed city's drive.

If the petition, which was launched July 1, receives 100,000 signatures by July 30, President Obama's administration will issue a response.

"Our voice will get heard, but it will not have as much power toward the FDA," Diaz said. "So with all the political backing - I think it's the hardest hit we can make."

Part of the political influence that Diaz mentioned included a visit from state Rep. Brian Sims.

Donating blood "was a big culture of my family," Sims said. "When I came out to my parents 15 years ago, it was one of the first things they asked me; if I would no longer be able to give blood, and I had to say 'yes.' "

The American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers and the American Association of Blood Banks have taken the position that the ban, referred to by the FDA as a lifelong referral, should be modified, suggesting a one-year wait to give blood from the last time a male donor had sex with another man, according to an official statement. However, for now, the FDA, maintains its stance.

The Health and Human Services' Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability met in 2010 to discuss the deferral and voted to maintain the ban, citing a need for further research according to the FDA.

"The agency welcomes scientific and public input and will continue to reevaluate donor deferral policies as new data become available to ensure the safety of blood and blood products for patients who need these products," the FDA said in a statement.

But Sims disagreed.

"Everybody whose opinion we should be trusting in the medical and science communities tell us that this needs to go," he said. "It's based in fear and discrimination."

Diaz concurred, adding that while the ban will not be overturned immediately, the blood drive helped raise awareness of the issue and move it forward.

"I think [the drive] is a step and I think it's a strong step," he said.

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