Since 1983, the Food and Drug Administration has banned blood donations from men who have had sex with other men any time after 1977. Created in the nascent years of the AIDS epidemic, the policy was intended to reduce the risk of spreading HIV during blood transfusions. But by design, the FDA's prohibition unequivocally discriminates against gay and bisexual men. Now, 30 years later, filmmaker Ryan James Yezak wants to pressure the FDA into lifting its discriminatory ban by staging a nationwide gay blood drive on Friday. In cities across the U.S., including Baltimore, gay and bisexual men who have not tested positive for HIV will show up at selected blood donation centers. After getting tested for HIV either outside of or near the center, the men will attempt to donate blood before being denied due to the FDA's regulation. After the rejection, volunteers will compile HIV tests from across the country and deliver them to the FDA to visually signal the number of healthy blood donors the agency's ban excludes from the available blood supply. When the FDA initiated its ban on donations from men who have had sex with other men (also called MSM donors), AIDS was largely thought to be a "gay disease." Medical research has completely refuted that misconception. Additionally, technology now allows for rapid individualized HIV tests that allow for easier screening of blood donors. Yezak's event seeks to convince the FDA to respond to those developments by providing clear visual evidence of what would be gained by switching to policies based on individual MSM donors' HIV risk rather than a broad ban based on sexual orientation. Recently, the American Medical Association advocated for a similar change. Gay and bisexual men in the Baltimore area who want to participate in the drive (which, given the lack of blood that will be collected, is more like a demonstration) should head to the Red Cross donation center at 4700 Mount Hope Drive between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. More information can be found in the video above. ___
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