ASUC Senate passes bill opposing FDA ban on blood donations from gay men

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The ASUC Senate unanimously passed a bill last Wednesday in opposition to the Food and Drug Administration’s lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men.

The bill, SB 14, garnered full support from senators. Additionally, 16 out of the senate’s 20 members co-sponsored the bill.

Government officials on the national level, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and a number of openly gay and lesbian members of Congress, have also denounced the ban, calling it discriminatory and outdated.

Authored by CalSERVE Senator Caitlin Quinn, the bill calls on ASUC President Deejay Pepito to write a letter to President Barack Obama as well as to Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Barbara Lee expressing the ASUC’s concerns about the FDA’s lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men.

“After talking to some community members, I figured as the queer-endorsed Senator I should take a stand against this institutionalized form of homophobia,” Quinn said in an email.

The FDA ban was established in 1983 due to growing concerns surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic that swept the nation and particularly affected the American gay community. The ban remains in place despite 30 years of technological and medical advancement that allows HIV testing, said UC Berkeley senior Michelle Carney, who co-sponsored the bill.

According to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, lifting the ban would allow more than 2.6 million eligible men to make blood donations, providing 219,200 pints of donated blood.

Carney said 24 percent of blood donations for the American Red Cross in the Bay Area comes from high school and college students, making this issue particularly important for members of the UC Berkeley community.

“From organizing the blood drive ourselves (on campus), we as students were tired of seeing our community feel helpless and hopeless,” Carney said.

According to the FDA website, the ban on such donations is “not based on any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation.”

In a statement released in June, however, the AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks), America’s Blood Centers and the Red Cross said they believed that the FDA’s ban “should be modified and donor referral criteria should be made comparable with criteria for other behaviors that pose an increased risk for transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections.”

“I definitely think it’s a really good start,” said UC Berkeley freshman Anthony Barros, who works in Quinn’s office and was involved in writing the bill. “Bringing visibility and awareness of this issue to Cal will be the best first steps to make change on this issue.”

Jennie Yoon is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @jennieyoon_.