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Committee advances blood-ban resolution to city council
by Matt Simonette

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The Chicago City Council's Committee on Health and Environmental Protection unanimously passed a resolution on Jan. 12 calling for the federal Food and Drug Administration ( FDA ) to revoke its ban on blood donations by men who have had sex with other men in the previous year.

The non-binding resolution was proposed in November by Ald. Tom Tunney ( 44th Ward ), who in the Jan. 12 hearing said that the current rules are draconian and discriminatory.

"The original ban was because we don't know enough about HIV," Tunney explained. "… Today this [rule] doesn't have scientific backup."

Health officials and rights advocates have long sought to overturn the rule, which had been modified in 2015 from an outright ban of donations from men who'd had same-sex sexual relations at any time since 1977. That initial ban lingered from the height of the '80s AIDS crisis.

Tunney further noted that the blood supply is extensively tested and that donors must fill out extensive questionnaires about their health backgrounds. The current rule, he added, is "so archaic in terms of where science is at today."

The committee heard testimony from Chicago Department of Public Health LGBTQ Community Liaison Antonio King, who noted declining infection rates as well as a recently-unveiled initiative to eliminate new infections altogether.

"If we can wipe out HIV, why can't the FDA wipe out this discriminatory practice?" King asked.

Crispin Torres, Howard Brown Health's manager of policy and advocacy, emphasized that the ban perpetuates stigma about men who have sex with men, indicating that even the most conscientious gay men "are deemed unworthy of donating blood and helping those people in need."

Ald. James Cappleman ( 46th ) concurred with Torres, noting that, "We all need to be educated about our behaviors, not about being part of a [particular] group."

Erik Roldan, Howard Brown Health's communications manager, also spoke, mentioning his disappointment when first told that he could not donate blood. Ald. Raymond Lopez ( 15th ) recalled that he once ignored the rule and donated anyway, believing that the greater good justified lying about his orientation.

"We have a blood shortage, a platelet shortage," Lopez said. " …Yet we have hundreds of thousands of individuals to whom we can say, 'Thanks, but no thanks.'"

He added, "It's high time that we allow people to do it without lying."

Committee Chairman Ald. George Cardenas ( 2nd ) concurred with the witness testimony and committee comments, noting, "Science has to be the liberator from prejudice."

Tunney's fellow members of the council's LGBT caucus—which includes Lopez and Cappleman as well as Alds. Deb Mell ( 33rd ) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa ( 35th )—co-sponsored the resolution, which is expected to go before the full city council Jan. 17.

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