DePauw student leads call to change

Saturday, April 10, 2010

GREENCASTLE -- Adam Gilbert believes that if a movement toward positive change "starts from the grassroots up, the flowers will bloom."

To that end, Gilbert is taking a stand against a policy established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that bans gay men from donating blood.

Gilbert has organized "Advocates for Adam: Donate his Weight," an initiative that will take place on the DePauw campus during an American Red Cross blood drive set for Monday from noon to 6 p.m. and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"As a homosexual man, I cannot donate blood," Gilbert said. "I hope to encourage people to donate in my place."

An "Advocates for Adam" campaign will take place outside the Neal Fieldhouse of the Lilly Physical Education Center. Donors will have the opportunity to sign a petition calling for modification of the FDA policy. Those who sign the petition will receive stickers bearing the message "I donate for Adam," and will also be given rainbow adhesive bandages to wear (rainbow items represent diversity within the gay, lesbian and transgender community, and are often used as a symbol of gay pride at right marches and other events).

The reason for the initiative is twofold, Gilbert explained -- he wants to support the blood drive as well as raise awareness and advocate for change of the FDA policy.

"This campaign is about educating people on discrimination that still exists today with a hope that, by changing this policy, we can positively impact our nation's blood banks," he said. "Since I can't donate to show my support, I'm asking for help. What the FDA doesn't realize is that they're segregating a population that just wants to help."

In 1983, the FDA put a policy in place stating that "men who have had sex with men, even once, since 1977" were prohibited for life from donating blood. The policy was set due to the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the early 1980s within America's gay community.

"The policy was understandable in 1983," Gilbert said. "Very little was known about HIV and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome, a potentially fatal disease caused by HIV)."

Those who have engaged in heterosexual sexual activity with a person known to have HIV are only excluded by from donating blood for one year.

With today's advanced blood testing and HIV screening for all blood donations, Gilbert said the spread of HIV through blood donations would be "virtually impossible."

Gilbert is not alone in that opinion. In 2006, the American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks and America's Blood Centers requested the policy be modified.

The FDA denied the request.

On March 4, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, along with 17 Democratic lawmakers, wrote to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg asking the agency to rescind the policy.

"Not a single piece of scientific evidence supports the ban," Kerry said in a statement. "A law that was once considered medically justified is today simply outdated and needs to end."

The FDA initially rejected Kerry's request, citing "current science and data."

Kerry then asked to see the data.

In response, the FDA announced that the policy would be reexamined in June by the Department of Health and Human Services' Blood Safety Committee.

"The policy shouldn't target a population that is willing to give, but should instead target risky behaviors that put blood donations at risk," said Laura Pearce, treasurer of United DePauw, the university's lesbian, gay, bisexual-pansexual and transgender organization. "Since every blood donation has to go through extensive tests before it is finally accepted into the blood banks, (gay males) donating blood should be a non-issue."

Gilbert said he was surprised by how many people had no idea the FDA policy existed.

"Several of my professors didn't know," he said. "I'd thought about doing a protest some time ago."

Gilbert, 21, a senior communications major, was spurred into action by a conversation with a friend.

"We made lists of things we wanted to do before we graduated," Gilbert said. "One of mine was to become political ... and by that I mean I wanted to fight the good fight because it was the right thing to do."

While browsing DePauw's campus calendar, Gilbert noticed the blood drive.

"I thought, 'Perfect!'" Gilbert said. "With the HIV trends and sound science, the proof that this policy is not needed is all right there." '

Gilbert, who still hasn't come out to many of his family members and friends, knows his sexual orientation will become public knowledge as a result of the "Advocates for Adam" initiative.

"The dialogue needs to happen," he said. "It's not about me. It's about all those who want so badly to help but can't."

Gilbert said he feels very safe at DePauw, and is open about his sexuality. He has, however, had people taunt him and yell derogatory comments.

"I hate it when people yell at me from car windows," he said. "Then they just drive off. What I wish is that people would just talk to me about whatever is bothering them."

Gilbert isn't sure what will happen once the blood drive is over -- he has considered the possibility of taking up other gay rights causes.

"My goal is to educate people on discriminatory policies," he said. "But right now, I'm trying to stay focused on this one policy."

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  • Thank you so much, Adam, for working so hard to educate the public on this very unfair ban! This is so very important to all of us! It is simply insane that gay men are not welcomed to donate blood EVER, when straight men and women who have engaged in heterosexual sexual activity with a person KNOWN to have HIV are only excluded by from donating blood for one year! How does that even begin to make sense!? Adam, I admire you for your dedication to go after discriminatory policies!

    -- Posted by phetbanz on Sat, Apr 10, 2010, at 2:43 AM
  • What a great initiative! Keep it up!


    -- Posted by the_bugler on Sat, Apr 10, 2010, at 3:04 AM
  • There is a facebook group for "Advocates for Adam." If interested you can join the group by going to: His group has been up for only a few days and there are already over 2,000 members from around the nation!

    -- Posted by aen2012 on Sat, Apr 10, 2010, at 4:30 PM
  • Okay, so from what I've read of the people against Adam's position: gay people shouldn't donate blood because they have HIV.

    Hello, that's why there are tests. This isn't your grandfather's technology and science we're dealing with. Sure, gay men may have a slightly higher HIV rate than straight people, but that doesn't mean that EVERY gay man has HIV. Banning someone from donating blood because you THINK they MAY have a disease is a completely bogus stance.

    If you were to make such a bigoted analogy about someone's race, do you think you'd be able to get away with it? Why do you think it's okay to generalize what gay men are like? You can't quite call it racism, but it's pretty close.

    -- Posted by forty_two on Sun, Apr 11, 2010, at 8:21 PM
  • I was a little cryptic with my "not quite racism" bit. It's not racism because gay people are not a race. However, I would classify it as sexism and classism (and several other isms that probably don't exist yet).

    When people let stereotypes get the best of them, they let mean, hateful things spew from their mouths, often without realizing the harm that they are inflicting upon the oppressed. In this case, the oppressed class is the gay man.

    This has happened before, remember. Also remember the civil rights movements that stemmed from these actions. African Americans and women (and gay people, to a lesser extent so far) fought for equality and respect.

    I hope a large gay rights movement takes place soon, and Adam, I'm backing you with everything I've got.

    -- Posted by forty_two on Sun, Apr 11, 2010, at 8:43 PM
  • Not being able to give blood is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of inequality for gay people. The statistics that you provide apply to straight people as well as gay people. The test is the same for every person, and every person has a chance of contracting HIV (even within the 6 month grace period).

    You're telling me that gay people haven't been beaten and lynched for being gay? Do you live under a rock? I suggest you read some of the horror stories about gay people dying just because of their lifestyle. If you look up "gay man beaten" on google, you will get 446,000 results. Feel free to read some of those articles.

    -- Posted by forty_two on Sun, Apr 11, 2010, at 9:49 PM
  • God created Adam and EVE not Adam & Steve... you weren't born this way -- so you shouldn't give blood diseases happen a lot in gay people. God Distroyed whole nations because of homosexuality! and now everynone wants to welcome it?

    Go get your publicity somewhere else. No one cares

    and it's just disgusting.

    -- Posted by luv2bmom2001 on Sun, Apr 11, 2010, at 10:53 PM
  • I propose a test. Lets get some blood from men who openly admit to being gay and label this blood as coming from those men. Then we will get some blood from heterosexual men who have never had sex with a man. Then we get forty_two and make a small surgical incision to accomplish blood loss. When forty_two is in critical shape we bring out the blood from both sources and let him choose which one gets added to his body. Science doesn't know what causes HIV completely, doesn't know how to cure it, and cannot ascertain how to test for it effectively. So what do you say forty_two, feel like a science experiment?

    -- Posted by exhoosier2 on Sun, Apr 11, 2010, at 11:06 PM
  • How about letting gays give blood but mark it so only other gays receive it?

    -- Posted by mad-mom on Mon, Apr 12, 2010, at 9:56 AM
  • mad mom I agree,let the rainbow coalation have thier own blood bank and we will see who's just talking,this young man admits he's in for the fight,not the cause

    -- Posted by obeone on Mon, Apr 12, 2010, at 10:27 AM
  • What stops men on the "DL" from giving blood?

    -- Posted by Dagnabbit on Mon, Apr 12, 2010, at 10:37 AM
  • IMO, all of this, the entire issue just seems petty compared to the grand scheme of things. Look at the big picture, someone doesn't get to donate blood because of a personal choice - big deal, we have people shooting at cops, earthquakes killing masses of people, "the economy", nuclear threats, job loss, etc - and someone wants to complain they can't donate blood (I know, I know, there's a "larger issues" at hand). Sure, it seems unfair to some that this person's lifestyle choice prohibits him, according to the laws, to donate blood. Again, I'm sorry, but there are more important things to worry about in this life. I know sometimes its difficult to try to understand someone's personal context and what that means to them and to accept them for it. Life is intended to be simple; we humans CHOOSE to make it complicated (no one's pointing fingers here, this is just a reality).

    -- Posted by ttocs on Mon, Apr 12, 2010, at 10:55 AM
  • Great point, Thoughtful, I was just thinking that myself. And, I wonder how many people lie on those questions.... the ones that ask if I've had sex with a man before 1977 that once traveled to Africa and played with monkies. How about we update that questionnaire, and enhance screening of the blood? I wasn't even born in 1977, let alone having sex with men who went on African Safaris or slept with other men. I think we need to also look at the way people are screened... it's the tip of the iceberg of this issue.

    -- Posted by MsBehaving on Tue, Apr 13, 2010, at 1:08 PM
  • This discussion-- triggered by Benedick and carried on by others-- has taken a dark turn. Here we have someone who, based on sound science, has seen an injustice and is trying to change it.

    It is an injustice not just for the male homosexual population, but for everyone who will ever need blood. With the nation's blood banks in a state of chronic short supply of blood, this ban makes no sense. What, indeed, is the difference between the blood of people who have sex with another person and a lifetime virgin?

    Since the testing is the same for all of them, the disease is non-discriminatory. Whether a woman has it from a contaminated husband who steeped out on her outside of her knowledge or a man has it from sex with another woman or man is irrelevant. We need to have some common sense here. BTW, I am a married, committed heterosexual man who just wants to bring some reason to the discussion.

    -- Posted by anonadam on Thu, Apr 15, 2010, at 1:37 PM
  • Benedick, I see that you are wanting sound information. I would point you to the letter from Sen John Kerry to the FDA asking for the lifting of this ban. It can be found here:

    Also, as for him making himself a story, I am sorry that you see it that way. Sometimes it takes a human face to show the reality of true discrimination... was Rosa Parks in it to make herself a story?

    -- Posted by anonadam on Tue, Apr 20, 2010, at 12:43 PM
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