Miami Beach commissioners urge FDA to let gays donate blood

By : Gideon Grudo
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It was all very easy - getting Miami Beach commissioners to stand behind an official urging the FDA, asking it to reconsider its 30-year-old ban on gays donating blood.

At least that’s what Walker Burttschell said. He’s the Florida International University student who concocted the idea while doing what students do - writing a paper.

“I always knew about the ban,” the 30-year-old political science major said. “They always ask you for blood, but turn you down when they find out you’re gay.”

Shortly after he submitted his paper, Burttschell was sitting at a meeting of the Miami Beach Human Rights Committee, when a complaint came in from a resident who alleged discrimination at a blood bank.

“The conversation came up, and we decided to draft a resolution,” Burttschell said, adding that the HRC voted on it unanimously. A friend of the board, Miami Beach Vice Mayor Michael Gongora, took the resolution to Miami Beach, who voted it through on Wednesday, Jan. 16. As of press time, SFGN has not been able to contact Gongora for comment.

“There wasn’t a huge effort behind this. The city is very progressive. It was a very easy thing to do,” Burttschell said. “I think other, local cities here - Fort Lauderdale and Miami – should do the same thing. I think there should be a movement to get all cities to do this.”

In the U.S., any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 is banned for life from donating blood. The federal policy was enacted in the 1985, when the risk of AIDS from transfusion was first recognized.

Last December Mexico became the first country in the Eastern Hemisphere to allow gays to donate blood. Argentina could also lift the ban this year, and Canada could modify the ban and instead allow gay men who haven’t had sex with another man for the last five years to donate blood.

An online petition has been started on the White House’s website, urging the government to take action and repeal the gay blood ban. It was started by no other than Burttshcell. It’s gathered 69 signatures as of publication. It needs 99,931 by Feb. 14 for the White House to issue an official response on the issue.

This isn’t Burttschell’s first brush with infamy. In 2010, he was among the first to shake Obama’s hand after the president signed the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ He was discharged from the military in 2003 after someone hacked his email account and figured out he was gay, leading to years of activism toward the repeal itself.

“It was hard work. 40 hours a week. Calling everyone you could think of. This was just a conversation. One reason is that it’s such an obvious issue,” Burttschell said about the resolution. “It’s a very basic issue that everybody gets. All blood is fully screened, including for HIV, so why should we have a ban on gay people?”

Editor’s note: Gideon Grudo is a reporter with the South Florida Gay News and this article is used with permission.

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