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Why I oppose the World AIDS Day blood drive

BY GUEST OPINION | DECEMBER 01, 2010 7:20 AM

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Walking across the Pentacrest this past Monday, I came upon two female students handing out fliers and encouraging people to attend a blood drive for World AIDS Day. My stomach dropped, but I said nothing.

You might wonder what there is to be said against blood drives, because such activities are, broadly speaking, noble things. The problem — and it is a big one — is not with blood drives in general, but ones held on and for World AIDS Day.

First, blood drives ostensibly have nothing to do with HIV/AIDS, because people living with HIV or AIDS don't have an especial need for resources of blood. Additionally, men who have slept with men are forbidden to donate blood, as are people living with HIV. Hence, for gay men and/or people living with HIV (I happen to be both), blood drives speak of our exclusion.

Now, insofar as daily life, this exclusion is somewhat permissible, though still wildly problematic for gay and bisexual men, because the large majority of us are not HIV-positive. Of course, people with HIV shouldn't donate blood; indeed, laws exist to ensure we do not.

Yet to affiliate a blood drive with World AIDS Day is a slap in the face. Essentially, it presents World AIDS Day as if it exists outside of gay men and people living with HIV, arguably the two groups in the U.S. most confronted with HIV/AIDS.

Bank drives, on a metaphorical level, suggest collectivity and nation; people literally give of themselves to a "good" larger than the limits of their own bodies. Gay and bisexual men's exclusion from this conduit of belonging on a day-to-day basis is harsh enough. It's patently wrong to invoke this exclusion in connection with World AIDS Day, an event largely existent to acknowledge the gay community's accomplishments and losses in the face of the epidemic.

Today, I'm débuting my documentary short, Red Red Red, at the Bijou. The focus of the film is Iowa's unjust and unique (on a federal level) law that severely limits the liberties of people with HIV. Most people have no idea this law even exists.

If I feel like Iowa at large is uninformed and indifferent about the issues and injustices surrounding HIV, I am now additionally distressed to realize that, with the existence of this blood drive, such a problem is also present on our campus. Of course one can say much of the same about the entire United States, because issues surrounding HIV/AIDS are receiving less and less collective attention.

World AIDS Day is one day out of the year set aside to acknowledge persons living with the virus, as well as to disseminate knowledge. Education, which surely must consist of lessons on prevention, should also encourage the teaching of histories surrounding the epidemic. Such lessons would tell of how gay communities in the United States were the first stricken with AIDS.

We were also the first to respond to the epidemic, through communal initiatives of care, world-changing feats of activism, and the development of knowledge that led to the advent of safer sex. We also lost some people, an awful lot of them. All this while society at large, as well as the government, didn't do much at all.

As I walked by the two young women promoting the World AIDS Day blood drive, the Pentacrest was mostly empty. Yet, neither of them solicited my attention. I wonder why.

David Oscar Harvey is a Ph.D. student in the University of Iowa cinema and comparative-literature department. His film, Red Red Red, will début in the Bijou at 8:30 p.m. today, preceded by Blue, another film about HIV/AIDS, at 7 p.m.


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