Mack’s Take: Trying to build and not to burn (opinion)

By John Mack Freeman

When I can, I try to build bridges instead of burn them. I think that reacting in a hostile fashion often leads to everyone becoming defensive and blocks any progress towards real conversation and growth. And while there are some things that are so repugnant that they need to be countered whenever they are found, there are others that arise from misunderstandings or from good intentions that have unexpected consequences.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the proposed FDA changes in blood bank rules that would allow for men who have had sex with men to donate blood if they had abstained for 12 months. A move in the right direction that will be voted on next week, but not nearly far enough. And I shared some of my anger and hurt that blood drives have caused for me in the past. But I realized that there was a major part of my view that I left out that I wanted to rectify: I think that blood drives are a good thing.

According to the American Red Cross, one out of five people who enters an emergency room will need a blood transfusion. Blood only stores for about six weeks though, and platelets can only be stored for about a week. The turnover is massive, and we never can tell when the next major catastrophe will strike that will stretch our medical resources to the brink. People who can take time out of their days and who are able to give blood should be commended.

I think the goal of any activism related towards blood drives of any kind has to be towards educating people about the unfair stigma of blocking many gay and bisexual men for giving blood due to outdated stereotypes. But I don’t think, regardless of any past hurt or embarrassment, that blood drives should be opposed. I think policy should be opposed. But the people organizing and running drives are just trying to do their part.

There is a chance that the Librarians Build Communities MIG will put on a blood drive at Midwinter 2015. Right now, they are exploring the feasibility and interest levels in a program of this nature. Some of the discussion that I have seen in some library-related Facebook groups has expressed dismay in the idea of a blood drive because it excludes many people, including gay and bisexual men, people who have spent time in numerous places abroad, and other deferred groups. Several have asked whether there is a place for something like this inside an ALA convention. I know that not everyone will agree with me, but I think that there is. I think that the policy is terrible, but blood drives are good. They are important. They are a vital health resource. And they provide an opportunity to start a conversation towards advocating for policy changes. But most importantly, I think that anyone opposing a blood drive has to ask whether the unintentional offense outweighs the benefit that someone could receive from receiving blood that was desperately needed.

Just because I can’t give doesn’t mean that I don’t want anybody to give. I’m not taking my ball and going home. If LBC MIG ends up getting the drive together, then I’m going to encourage every eligible person I know to become a donor. And yeah, maybe when I get there, it’ll awaken some annoyance or pain I haven’t felt in a while. But for me, the benefits to the larger community outweigh my moment of discomfort.

This is an opinion piece that reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GLBTRT, its membership, GLBT News, or its contributors.


1 thought on “Mack’s Take: Trying to build and not to burn (opinion)

  1. Agreed. It’s because I think blood drives are important that it makes me so frustrated that I can’t give. Some people have genuine reasons they can’t give. Some people are squeamish or can’t take needles. But here I am, a healthy man with healthy blood of a relatively rare type, who would willingly volunteer to give blood every chance he could, but he can’t.

    I used to give regularly; I even had it on my calendar. But then one day I couldn’t. Yes, it kind of felt unfair to me and to those who could use my donation.

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