Caleb Laieski may be young, tall and lanky, but he’s a fighter.
At his Arizona high school, anti-gay bullying was so bad that he had to drop out and complete his education in a GED program. But the intense persecution he suffered had a sort of purifying effect – he channeled the bigotry against him into action. As he put it, he refused to “be another statistic.” In 2011 he advocated and lobbied for the Student Non-Discrimination Act in The Grand Canyon State and served as a diversity liaison in the Phoenix, Arizona mayor’s office. He also caught the attention of members of Congress and the White House and tried to take non-discrimination act to Capitol Hill.
Now he’s taking on the FDA. The 19-year-old LGBT activist, and good friend of mine, sued the FDA earlier this month for its “unnecessary” and “discriminatory” policy of banning MSM (men who have sex with men) blood donors from donating.
In 1985, the FDA began rejected blood donations from gay and bisexual men because they were at “increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion.” The AIDS epidemic was one of the defining tragedies of the 1980s. Thousands of healthy gay and bisexual men were suddenly becoming dangerously ill and dying from what some were calling the “gay cancer.” This new and terrifying virus was called AIDS and the FDA knew little about it, other than the fact that it was transmitted through the blood and sexual intercourse. Understandably, the administration banned MSM donors from donating to prevent accidental infections of blood transfusion patients.
Since then, our understanding medical science has exponentially increased. For one, the FDA scrutinizes and tests all blood donations it receives for viruses and cancers. Samples that don’t pass the tests are destroyed. People receiving blood transfusions are in very good and capable hands. But what has been one of the biggest breakthroughs in medicine has been the demotion of HIV/AIDS from a life-ravaging Grim Reaper to a treatable, chronic condition. The miraculous Truvada, for example, essentially prevents transmission.
And yet the blood ban is still on the books. Even though experts and the American Medical Association have denounced the lifetime ban as an unnecessary, bigoted policy, the FDA still turns away possibly millions of donors because of their sexual orientation. The American Red Cross has estimated that nearly two million more people could be saved if the ban were to be eliminated and that as many as three people can be helped from a single donation.
Laieski’s lawsuit uses the precedents set in famous historical cases, including Lawrence v. Texas (2003), Loving v. Virginia (1967), and United States v. Windsor (2013) to argue that turning away and singling out a group of people because of their sexual orientation is unconstitutional. Medical privacy is also cited; only homosexuals are asked to disclose if they’ve had multiple partners.
Laieski has a compelling case, to say the least. The FDA’s ban is discriminatory and not even needed to begin with. Asking gay and bisexual men how many people they’ve slept with may have been an uncomfortable precaution in the ’80s, but it’s 2014. HIV/AIDS doesn’t just effect millions of straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people – it’s a treatable condition that can be managed and prevented.
Is the FDA just nostalgic for the Reagan years or does it see all LGBT people as diseased and unworthy of blood donation? We will soon find out. With marriage equality sweeping the nation and renewed efforts to pass the Employment N0n-Discrmination Act (ENDA), I can’t think of a better time for the FDA to join the rest of the country in the 21st century than now.