Student shifts focus from boycott of blood drive to informing donors

by Sara Goo

A student who planned to organize a boycott of the University blood drive because he believes it discriminates against homosexual men has changed his tactics.
Sean Wherley, president of the University Gay Community, said he decided not to urge the boycott because he didn’t want to decrease the blood supply. The blood drive, which is being sponsored by Boynton Health Service, ends today.
“I realized that I could achieve a small change without calling for a boycott,” he said.
Three weeks ago, Wherley raised objections about the Food and Drug Administration policy of not accepting blood from any man who has had sex with another man, even once, since 1977.
But instead of boycotting, Wherley and members of the Progressive Student Organization and The Association of Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Student Organization and Their Friends passed out informational cards to blood donors.
According to the cards, the Red Cross policy discriminates against blood donors based on sexual orientation rather than sexual practices because donors are not asked if they’ve had protected sex.
Students are asked to sign the card if they are in support of changing the policy.
So far, Wherley said, his supporters have collected 625 cards. “These are people who do give blood but have concerns about the policy.”
In addition, Wherley said he plans to write a letter to Sen. Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minn., and Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., about his concerns on this issue.
Wherley said he was pleased with the positive response he has received from students, but he has a bigger agenda in mind.
He has organized his efforts with Ed Ehlinger, director of Boynton Health Service, to form a task force that will examine whether the FDA policy is up to date concerning the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Ehlinger said Wherley has brought this issue to his attention in personal meetings.
“I am in partial agreement with Sean that existing criteria (for blood donations) are a bit too vigorous,” he said.
Ehlinger said the task force will review the particular criteria that a man who has had sex once with another man since 1977 may not donate blood.
The FDA policy states that a man who has had sex with a female prostitute must wait one year after the encounter before giving blood. According to the Red Cross, the one-year period allows a person to develop antibodies to HIV that would be detected when the blood is tested.
“By the same logic, some say, a man who has not had sex with another man for one year ought to be allowed to give blood. While that isn’t the current policy, it would allow some gay men the opportunity to give blood,” according to information from the North Central Blood Services and the Red Cross.
Representatives from the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota AIDS Project, the Memorial Blood Center, The Association of Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Student Organization and Their Friends, Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action and the American Red Cross are just some of those who will participate in the task force.
The group will have its first meeting in March.
Ehlinger said he is not certain how long the task force will work together, but the goal is to gather the opinions of the representatives.