WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Berkshire Health Systems (BHS) Bloodmobile made a special appearance on the Williams College campus Friday, coinciding with the Williamstown Theatre Festival's production of "Dracula."
Resident Edward Sedarbaum politely handed a letter to each donor.
"Thank you for volunteering to donate blood today," the letter begins. "I wish I could join you."
Sedarbaum, an openly gay man with a partner of 39 years, was taking a stand against the federal Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) policy that imposes a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men.
"I find the refusal to allow men who have ever slept with another man to donate blood is humiliating," he said.
The policy, issued in 1983 during the AIDS outbreak, prevents blood donations from any man who has had sexual contact with another man since 1977.
Sedarbaum said the policy especially strikes home for him -- while living in New York City in the 1980s, he was a frequent blood donor.
"I used to donate every three or four months, as often it was medically recommended," he said. "After the ban was implemented, I was both infuriated and humiliated ... but in 1983 I wasn't going to question the science, since there was no science."
But medical science has seen huge advances since then, he said.
"Now, they can determine whether there's HIV in your blood within a matter of days," he said.
Sedarbaum is not alone -- the American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks, and America's Blood Centers all opposed the ban in a joint position to the FDA in 2006.
And, though he didn't intend it, Sedarbaum's polite act coincides with a larger event. The National Gay Blood Drive took place in 52 cities and towns across the country on Friday.
According to the event's website, male donors were encouraged to be tested for HIV at a specified donation center in their city and attempt to donate blood. As each donor is rejected, their test result is collected and delivered to the FDA, demonstrating how much blood the gay community could contribute if the policy was lifted.
The FDA devotes an entire page defending the policy on its website.
"FDA's primary responsibility is to enhance blood safety and protect blood recipients," it states. "Therefore FDA would change this policy only if supported by scientific data showing that a change in policy would not present a significant and preventable risk to blood recipients."
Sedarbaum said the reaction from donors and passersby on Friday was entirely positive. A nurse from the bloodmobile even provided him with a bottle of water and a snack, he said.
"I would like to see local blood collection units violate the ban, and see what happens," he said. "I imagine if they started violating the ban, the FDA would have to make a pretty quick decision."
Comment from officials at the FDA and BHS were unavailable at press time.
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