Two weeks ago The Equinox ran an article regarding a Keene State College student who said he had been denied explanation from an American Red Cross representative on why he could not donate blood. In a follow-up, The Equinox spoke with Dr. Jorge Rios, a medical director for the American Red Cross Blood Services, who clarified that the particular student in the story was refused not by a Red Cross policy, but by a policy of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA.)
Dr. Rios said that the policy to deny homosexual men from donating blood is written in the FDA’s criteria, which the American Red Cross must follow to be deemed an adequate blood bank organization.
“Every blood bank in the U.S., Red Cross or non-Red Cross, has to follow the regulations established by the Food and Drug Administration in terms of who can and cannot give blood,” Rios said.
However, Rios clarified that although they follow the FDA’s guidelines, they do not necessarily reflect their personal views on the issue.
“The Red Cross and the association of non-Red Cross blood banks called American Blood Centers, or ABC, all work together within the American Association of Blood Banks, or AABB. Together, we have each made a statement saying that we believe that this policy needs to be changed — it’s unfair. It needs to be modified,” Rios said.
Rios continued, “Our feeling is that it is outdated. Many other blood banks in the U.S., the Association of Transfusion Medicine, and many hospitals — we collectively believe the same feeling.”
Sophomore Jacob Knehr, who was mentioned in the recent article, said he agrees that the policy is outdated.
“I’ve never tried to donate blood before, but I support those who do try to make a difference,” Knehr said. “For an organization to put restrictions on the LGBT community when they are just trying to help the cause is outrageous.”
Roger Weeks, KSC sophomore, said he feels that, although he is not able to donate blood because of his sexuality, the Red Cross is only following the FDA’s criteria.
“The Red Cross saves so many lives that it’s almost too much to even wrap my head around,” Weeks said, “It’s just hard for me, knowing that if I went to go give blood right now, I’d be turned down.”
Weeks continued, “I wish this policy could be changed right now, but I think it takes more than that. There are steps to go through, there is a process, but I know that change is something that can happen in the future.”
In fact, the American Red Cross is interested in working on changing the FDA’s policy.
“We have all presented our joint statement collectively in the past years with a spokesperson from the AABB to various committees of the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services multiple times, especially in 2010 and 2013,” Rios said.
“We presented this statement basically saying that we want the policy to be modified. We are willing to support any research project that would be required to change the policy,” Rios said.
KSC students said they feel that a change to the FDA’s policy needs to be made, as well. They indicated that a change will be better in the long-run.
“I would love to help if the American Red Cross wanted to do anything about it,” Knehr said, “If other organizations wanted to inform the government and the FDA how outdated their policy is, I would be more than willing to help and will definitely bring this subject up to other members of KSC Pride.”
Likewise, Weeks understands that, in order to make a change, people must first realize that there is a problem on hand.
“It’s going to take time,” Weeks said, “When I was born, gay marriage wasn’t as open and accepted as it is today. We see now that more and more states are passing the same-sex marriage laws and we’re starting to see acceptance finally. These are such huge steps. Things are changing all the time for us and I really believe this will too.”
Weeks noted that the FDA policy on donors is just another step for the LGBT community to cross.
“I really believe this is something that can happen if we all work together. It’s really about educating people on the issue first,” Weeks said.
The American Red Cross relies on donors around the country for an overwhelming amount of blood donations each day. The importance of accepting all the blood that they can is of large concern for the organization.
“Around the U.S., in the Red Cross, we need to collect 40,000 units of blood each day. Each and every blood donor is valuable to us,” Rios said.
KSC’s blood drives, which happen every couple of months on campus, are important to the American Red Cross and they look forward to working with us in the future, according to Mary Brant, communications manager for the Northern New England American Red Cross.
Brant reiterated the amount of support that the KSC students give towards the institution and that they plan to continue it into the future.
“Here in the Northern New England region, we have to collect seven hundred units of blood every day to maintain a healthy, adequate blood supply,” Brant said.
“We definitely need the support of the students at Keene State College to make sure that we are able to supply all of the hospitals that we work with,” Brant concluded.
Stephanie McCann can be contacted at email@example.com.