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West Hollywood blood drive protests FDA exclusion of gays as donors

Blood drive in WeHo protests exclusion of gays, bisexual men from being blood donors
Straight people donate blood in the name of gay people at WeHo blood drive
Gays and bisexual men excluded by FDA from donating blood; WeHo blood drive event protests the law

As the group outside the Red Cross blood donation bus on Santa Monica Boulevard huddled together for a photo, the man holding the camera yelled: "Everybody, say blood!"

Then: "Everybody, say, 'I wish they accepted my blood!'"

At the blood drive in West Hollywood on Friday, most of the volunteers could not donate. Gay and bisexual men — and any man who has had sex, even one time, with another man since 1977 — are banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from giving blood for life.

The West Hollywood blood drive was one of dozens of National Gay Blood Drive events Friday in which gay and bisexual men brought heterosexual friends to donate in their place.

The straight people donating in West Hollywood wore name tags bearing the name of the gay person whose place they took. The gay and bisexual men who could not donate were given pieces of paper to write messages to the FDA.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post included a caption that described Cliff Biddle as gay. Biddle is bisexual. 

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Ryan James Yezak, who organized the National Gay Blood Drive, said Friday's blood donations will be counted and that messages from the people who couldn't donate will be sent to the FDA to show that gay men can contribute to the nation's blood supply.

In this case, he said, he aimed to show that they want to contribute even when they are banned from giving their own blood. According to the FDA, the ban is in place because gay men are at a higher risk for HIV and AIDS than heterosexual people.

The FDA has barred gay men from donating since 1983, when the risk of getting AIDS from transfusions was first recognized, according to the agency's website.

The ban, according to the agency, "minimizes even the small risk of getting infectious diseases such as HIV or hepatitis through a blood transfusion."

Many, such as Yezak, say the ban is outdated because HIV testing has become more accurate. The ban, he said, perpetuates "the stereotype that all gay men are feared to be diseased."

A few years ago, when his workplace in Santa Monica hosted a blood drive to help tornado victims in Tennessee, Yezak, who is gay, was one of the only people in the office who couldn't donate.

"I felt like an alien in an alien movie," he said. "I felt like a different species. I was completely alienated for no reason because I was completely healthy."

At Friday's blood drive in West Hollywood, Cliff Biddle, 21, of North Hollywood, hugged Michelle Carter, 25, of Sherman Oaks after she came out of the donation bus, where she'd just given a pint of blood.

Carter wore a sticker on her chest with his name: "I donated for Cliff Biddle."

Biddle smiled at her as she met him on the sidewalk.

Of her donation, he said: "It's like I get a voice in all of this."

Follow @haileybranson on Twitter.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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