Donors come out in droves for first Nat'l Gay Blood Drive

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Across the country and right in West Michigan, donors are coming out for a blood drive, but some people are banned from taking part.

Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids are two of 60 cities nationwide to host the National Gay Blood Drive.

The event is trying to call attention to the fact that gay and bisexual men are still banned by the government from giving blood.

Friends and family lined up to give blood, and to honor those who are blocked from doing so.

They want to change the ban one pint at a time.

Christine Kiel gave blood for the first time Friday. She got up her courage to do it, just for the National Gay Blood Drive.

"I think the nation is losing out on a great resource; it's unfair they can't," she said.

Kiel is talking about the millions of gay and bisexual men blocked by the FDA from donating blood.

The FDA says men who have sex with men are at a high risk for contracting HIV, which can later develop into AIDS.

"The ban comes out of 1983, when the screening was much different for blood than it is now," said organzier Austin Wines. "It was at the height of the AIDS scare."

Wines says considering blood banks already screen for various diseases, including HIV, it's time to bring donations into the 21st century.

"Judge and determine people's eligibility based on individual risk factors and sexual behavior and not sexual orientation," he said.

The blood drive was held at the local American Red Cross Headquarters.

Everyone on hand is still following the rules from the government, but in a statement, the Red Cross says the ban should be changed.

Instead, donors should be screened on risk factors.

The Red Cross has proposed a 1-year stop to the ban on blood from gay donors.

"It's about saving lives too," Wines said. "Showing the FDA we're ready and willing to contribute."

The blood drive was packed with donors.

While the men can't give blood yet, they say it's about raising awareness and having friends and families donate in their place.

"Discrimination in any other area wouldn't be tolerated," Wines said. "In this circumstance, we could be saving lives."

Organizers also had a petition on hand.

After collecting 100,000 signatures nationwide, they hope to get a response on the issue from President Obama.