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Blood Mirror Shines a Light on the FDA’s Gay Blood Ban

This new exhibit from the American University Museum turns blood donations into provocative protest art.

Blood Mirror - 9 Men Protest FDA Ban on Gay Blood Donors. Film by Leo Herrera, Sculpture by Jordan Eagles from Herrera Images on Vimeo.

A single drop of blood is one of those things that can send even the burliest of tough guys running and screaming in the opposite direction. There is a decided squick factor when it comes to this life-sustaining liquid; but that general unease and discomfort is given a sharp political bent when that blood happens to belong to a gay, bisexual, or transgender man. As you may or may not know, the FDA currently does not accept any blood donations from "MSM," in other words, men who have sex with men. The regulation is a holdover from 1977 when the AIDS epidemic first struck the United States, and the risk of receiving blood infected with the disease from MSM was at an all-time high. Despite dramatic changes in transmission, testing, and general awareness, however, the FDA has yet to totally lift its ban, even for MSM who are able to verify they’re clean despite their sexual preferences. Though the organization has insisted this is not a discriminatory practice, but rather a prudent one aimed at safety, it’s hard not to feel otherwise, particularly when you’re one of those healthy MSM who are repeatedly being turned away.

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'Untitled' via the American University Museum

So instead, nine gay gentleman who were unable to legally give their blood to save lives instead voluntarily donated it to an art exhibit entitled Blood Mirror, currently on display at the American University Museum until October 18th, as a form of protest. The exhibit, curated by artist Jordan Eagles, is composed of a number of mixed-media pieces all centered around a short film created by Leo Herrera that follows the stories of the nine men as they discuss why they’ve chosen to offer their blood to art. The show also includes a sculpture by Herrera, Untitled, composed of a large, illuminated lucite cube filled with the blood and various hospital paraphernalia from the procedure, as well as a Blood Flag that appears to be dyed with the men’s vital fluids.

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“Blood Flag” via the American University Museum

According to the press release for the show, their donors were also chosen with great intention, “The men who donated their blood to this project include: An 88-year-old openly gay priest; a Nigerian gay rights activist on political asylum in the U.S.; a Co-Founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC); the CEO of GMHC; an identical gay twin whose straight brother is eligible to donate; a captain in the Army who served two terms in Iraq and was discharged under 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' (reinstated to service in 2014); a married transgender male couple, and; a bisexual father of two. Dr. Howard Grossman, former director of the American Academy of HIV Medicine, was the medical supervisor on the project, as well as a blood donor.”

According to the Williams Institute, if this ban were to be lifted it would save one million lives annually. As of this summer, the FDA has altered their ban to accept the blood of men who have not engaged in sex with other men for 12 months prior to donation. For many, however, this partial correction is too little, too late, and Blood Mirror helps to perfectly articulate that persisting disquietude.

Click here to learn more about Blood Mirror.

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