Jay Franzone is on a mission to bring attention to the country’s ban on blood donated from men who have sex with men.
As part of that mission, he is remaining celibate for a year in order to meet the requirement set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which prohibits men from donating blood if they have had sex with another man in the past year. It was most difficult when he turned 21 on April 17 and could not have sex with his then-boyfriend. “That came and went,” he said.
More than 30 years ago, the FDA introduced a ban on blood donations from men who had had sex with another man at any point since 1977. This provision was borne out of the HIV/AIDS crisis that developed within the gay community and the fear that infected blood could get into the donation supply.
While the rule was updated in December, it still prohibits donations from men who have had sex with another man in the past year, which some proponents say is necessary and based on higher-than-average rates of HIV infection within the gay community.
And it’s a policy that came into the national spotlight again in June, when 49 people were shot and killed at gay club Pulse in Orlando. Donations from some people within that community were turned away.
Franzone says he wants to be able to keep bringing attention to the ban and also add to the nation’s blood supply, so he has vowed to remain abstinent for a year. PBS NewsHour Weekend recently sat down with him to hear more.
Can you tell us what it is you’re doing and why?
This year, I am staying abstinent so that I can donate blood. I am looking forward to donating. It’s definitely kind of a big ask for people. The FDA says you have to be abstinent to give blood. So, okay, that’s ridiculous, but I’m going to do it. This policy is a lot more than me. It affects men across the country and affects anyone across the country who’s relied on blood. And at the end of the day, the number one priority is keeping the blood supply safe and having a plentiful supply.
Why is this an important issue to you, personally?
This is an LGBT issue that’s black and white. This is about risk, not gay or bisexual men. It’s time we moved to a policy based on individual risk, that allows gay men to give blood if they’re engaging in safe behavior, just as heterosexuals should be required to do as well.
When was the first time you heard about the FDA ban on men who have sex with men donating blood?“It brings up that stigma that gay equals HIV, and that’s not true. Yes, the gay community is adversely impacted by HIV. But the majority of gay people are HIV negative.”
It was in high school. There was a blood drive going on, and you could get tickets to Six Flags if you donate blood. It was something a lot of my friends were doing because they want to go to Six Flags, who doesn’t. But when you look at the policy, and if you’re able to donate blood, if you weigh enough, if you’re tall enough, you don’t think they’ll ask, “Are you gay? Are you a man who has sex with men?” That’s essentially what they’re asking us, are you gay. And the answer is yes. And I couldn’t donate blood, and I didn’t get that free ticket to Six Flags. My friends did, and it was a tough thing.
At that point, were you sexually active?
Yeah, at that point in high school I couldn’t give blood based on this policy. Even some of my friends who were not gay who weren’t sexually active, they didn’t want to give blood because of how this policy was framed.
How did that feel, to be told that you weren’t going to be able to donate blood?
Being told you can’t donate blood, I think it’s kind of a shocker. It wasn’t because I was really short or because I was very, very skinny. It was just based on my sexuality. That really sucked. And of course we didn’t have nationwide, same-sex marriage then, but I expected a little more. I expected to at least be able to give blood. It brings up that stigma that gay equals HIV, and that’s not true. Yes, the gay community is adversely impacted by HIV. But the majority of gay people are HIV negative.
Can you talk about the significance of this policy in regard to the Orlando shooting?
Orlando was a tragic, tragic massacre — an attack on our country, an attack specifically on the LGBT community. And for so many people to be severely injured and presumably need blood, their best friends, who are likely gay as well, they can’t donate. And so that’s a horrendous, horrendous irony that we have, where these people can’t even, when they’re better and get healed, can’t even give blood to replenish the supply that they needed. It’s really tough to grasp that whole situation — your community’s attacked and you can’t do anything to help it.
What message are you hoping to send?
The FDA’s deferral is kind of similar to Donald Trump saying “ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.,” no matter the risk. And the same thing could be said about gay and bisexual men. You’re not welcome to contribute to society, to our blood supply, no matter your risk. And if you’re going to ban all Muslims from entering the country, then you’re banning PhDs, world leaders and doctors. So what message does that send? And where are we basing things on risk?
I think I’m continuing to remind people that this is crazy to ask people to stay abstinent for a year. No one’s really going to do that. But my ask in return is, take two hours and if you can, go donate blood.
This transcript was edited for length and clarity.