Pittsburgher Dan Burda’s partner of eight years, Rohn, passed away from a heart attack this year. Like many families of the recently deceased, Burda and his loved ones wanted to donate Rohn’s skin, tissue and organs to someone who needed them.
But they were not allowed to do that because of a long-standing FDA ban on such donations from any man who has had sex with a man.
Gay and bisexual men are also banned from donating blood, something that Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus discovered on September 11, 2001. He said he was looking for some way to help, and that giving blood seemed like the best option for him.
“When I got there, I was turned away,” Kraus said. “I was shocked that I was turned away because I’d answered a questionnaire that said had I ever had sex with a man before? Of course, I was honest in my response and said that I did.”
City Council Monday unanimously passed a Will of Council resolution urging Congress to repeal such a ban on blood, organ, and tissue donations from gay men.
Councilman Dan Gilman, who sponsored the resolution, said the policy — which is meant to prevent HIV from entering the donated blood supply — is discriminatory and based on fear, not science.
“We lose millions and millions of donors, while we have the greatest shortage of blood and tissue in our country’s history,” Gilman said. “There’s no question, it’s not looking into the history, it’s not ‘Have you been with the same partner for the last 38 years?’ If (you’re a man and have had sex with a man once), you cannot donate blood for the rest of your life.”
Gilman said numerous medical organizations have called for the ban to be overturned, including the American Medical Association and the American Red Cross. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the first openly gay U.S. senator, is leading the charge in Congress.
Burda said he was touched by City Council’s action and said that he and his partner didn’t choose to be gay, but they did choose a committed relationship and safer sex practices.
“I thank you all so much for your attention to this matter,” Burda said. “We are no longer a gay community, a black community, a white community, and we need to start living that way.”