Baton Rouge participates in first National Gay Blood Drive

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POSTED: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 9:37pm

UPDATED: Friday, July 11, 2014 - 10:05pm

There's always a need for blood donors, but a large group of people is banned from ever rolling up their sleeves and donating.

Now they say the time has come to change the law and save lives.

Baton Rouge was one of 61 cities to participate in the second National Gay Blood Drive.

The event was a response to the federal ban that prevents gay men from donating blood. It was implemented in 1983 by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent recipients from contracting HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis B, and other viruses.

Ending the ban is, "important to me because if it wasn't for donors that give blood, I wouldn't be here," Brad Weems said.

Weems was in a single-car crash on Interstate 10 near Grosse Tete in 2003.

"I was pronounced dead on arrival," Weems recalled. "I bled out completely. They had to give me two transfusions before I made it back to the hospital."

As a result of the wreck, part of his leg had to be amputated, and he spent the next two years in a rehab hospital. He had always known that he was banned from giving blood because of his sexual orientation, but the crash change made him think more deeply about it.

"I had a conversation with my brother not too long ago about giving blood," Weems said. "He does it each month, and he mentioned to me that he does it because he wants to give back what I lost.

"I didn't realize that until he told me that. It was only about two months ago. Then this event came up, and it took first priority. I wanted to help out."

Weems and his friends took to social media to promote the drive.

"It wasn't something we started, but we just wanted to help out in any way," he stated.

Twenty-one people signed in to give blood on behalf of their gay friends during the drive at United Blood Services, resulting in 17 units donated.

"Nobody really says anything, nobody's really done anything about it until now," Weems said.

"I'm hoping that, with not just this blood drive but all the drives nationwide, that people will realize that there's no reason we can't donate, and that we could actually give more to the critical shortage with the blood supply now," said Daniel Gardner, one of the organizers of the event.

Coinciding with the drive is a petition to the White House, to force the FDA to get rid of the ban. If the petition receives 100,000 signatures, the White House will issue a response. The American Red CrossAmerican Medical Association, and the American Association of Blood Banks have all said it is outdated and unnecessary.

"I hope it'll make a change," Weems stated. "It should. It's been too long, we've come too far. And in today's society, it's crazy to think that one group of American individuals are isolated from giving life."

Forty percent of adults are eligible to give blood, based on their weight, health, countries they have traveled to, and other factors, but only one in eight people donates on a yearly basis. A 2010 study showed that, if the ban was lifted, gay men would donate 219,000 pints of blood a year. Canada and the United Kingdom only allow gay men to donate blood if they have not had sex with another man in the last 12 months; such a policy here would lead to 90,000 more pints.

The FDA has said it would consider lifting the ban if enough evidence were presented that it would pose no danger to the blood supply.

Testing for HIV is much faster and more accurate than in 1983, but there is an 11-day window in which HIV can be present without being detected by a test.

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