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Our blood donation rules need a makeover. Let's start with who is allowed to give.

Who could be donating blood that isn’t? One answer: Queer men.

Our blood donation rules need a makeover. Let's start with who is allowed to give.

Despite the desperate need for blood donations, very few people who can donate blood in the United States actually do.

"Of the eligible donors — and I think about 38% are eligible to actually donate — there's probably about 3 or 4% that actually do donate. That's alarming," said Red Cross spokesman Joe Zydlo in a recent interview.

The American Red Cross released more statistics about blood donation ahead of World Blood Donor Day on June 14.


Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

The surprising number knocks a lot of misconceptions about blood donation in America. Someone in the U.S. needs a blood donation every two seconds, according to the Red Cross. And yet, the low number of blood donation rates means that those in need of blood aren’t being served.

It begs the question: Who could be donating blood that isn’t?

One answer: Queer men.

Photo by Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images.

Though queer men can technically donate blood, there's still some pretty homophobic red tape blocking real progress.

In 2015, the Red Cross lifted the lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men. But, the flawed rule only applies to men who haven’t had sex with other men within a year of donation.

Dating back to antiquated U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laws from 1983, gay men were originally prohibited from donating blood entirely due to stigma about gay men as the HIV panic grew in the United States. Gay men and queer activists fought the laws for decades, ultimately finding some success in the 2015 FDA guidance, which states, "Defer for 12 months from the most recent sexual contact, a man who has had sex with another man during the past 12 months."

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

The guidance, while a step in the right direction, is still rightly criticized as being biased and not doing enough to open the pool of donors.

For example, when the Pulse massacre happened in 2016, numerous queer men attempted to step up and help the queer community by donating to shooting victims, only to be turned away by blood donation centers.

From mass shootings, to fatal natural disasters, blood donations centers are always in need of committed donors. It's imperative we accept as many willing donors as possible, regardless of sexual activity or preference.

So, how do we make sure that those in need get help while also working toward a more inclusive society?

For starters, you can donate. Visit the Red Cross's blood donation page to figure out if you're eligible to give blood, and when you can do it.

In addition, get familiar with the FDA's blood donation recommendations, and talk to your local lawmakers about the importance of pushing the FDA commissioner to study more equitable recommendations for blood donation.

It’s long overdue that we open the opportunity to all people regardless of sexual identity and history. When we do this, not only do we help those in need, we foster a society that is rightly inclusive for everyone.

Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I'm a bit of a pen snob. Even if I'm just making a list, I look for a pen that grips well, flows well, doesn't put too much or too little ink into the paper, is responsive-but-not-too-responsive to pressure, and doesn't suddenly stop working mid-stroke.

In other words, the average cheap ballpoint pen is out. (See? Snob.)

However, Oscar Ukono is making me reevaluate my pen snobbery. Because while I'm over here turning up my nose at the basic Bic, he's using them to create things like this:

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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