This week's announcement that the Food and Drug Administration had lifted the ban against gay and bisexual men from donating blood lit up my Facebook feed. For over 30 years, this ban has kept millions of men (and a good number of women) from donating blood which had the potential to be life-saving in emergencies and natural disasters. But with this recent announcement, thousands of gay and bisexual men should be receiving their One Gallon Pin within just a few short years, right? Wrong.
The news from the FDA has a flaw. Men can only donate if it has been longer than a year since their last sexual activity with another man.
It seems the FDA has marked as asterisk in their policy with a footnote that states “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” shall not be appointed to donate blood. It’s ironic, isn't it, that in the age of marriage equality, two men married under the eyes of the law aren't eligible to give blood until they have stopped having a healthy sex life for at least a year? Or that a woman married to a bisexual man will still have to wait a year after the last known same-sex encounter of her husband? I'm not even sure how the FDA would begin to address transgender and genderqueer persons in this policy. It might just blow their minds too much.
A friend who was teaching at a large university a few years ago attempted to give blood and when he was refused the opportunity, he adamantly stated this was against the university’s non-discrimination policy. Unfortunately, neither the American Red Cross nor his employer thought so. His teaching contract was not renewed. Now, it seems, the flawed FDA policy is only a little better than before.
Let’s be honest. This is the same place we find The United Methodist Church. For years, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons have heard the call to ministry in our congregations and campus ministries, and then they have struggled through seminary coursework and the ordination process. They have needed to stay silent, leave certain boxes unchecked, or simply faded away from the ordination process – and in some cases, the Church – because of flawed policies surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity. And when they dare to question policies, they are marked as troublemakers, denied access to pulpits, and, in some cases, defrocked. Even as we review the multiple different proposals which seek church unity, we recognize these proposals are written on the backs LGBTQ United Methodists.
These same imperfect policies, like those lifting of the FDA ban of the blood of same-gender loving persons, might be a baby step into the realm of full inclusion, so let’s call them what they are: baby-steps. As these discussions open The United Methodist Church to forward movement and possibility, they are not, and cannot be confused with, acts of full justice. To do so, would be nothing more than accepting flawed policies in lieu of life abundant.
May the FDA and the UMC recognize the folly in their policies, both enacted and proposed. And may we, the people, continue to hold decision makers accountable for these flawed policies and practices.
Chett Pritchett is Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and is a member at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.