With opening ceremonies for Homecoming coming later this week, The Miami Hurricane looked into the point distribution system developed for competing organizations to determine if any of the events were discriminatory toward participating student groups. The Miami Hurricane found that SpectrUM, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered organization on campus with an approximate membership of 70 percent gay males, would not be able to compete fairly during the blood drive because of blood donation policies.
“I think that nationally the issue needs to be revisited as it does discriminate,” Robert Castro, Homecoming co-chair, said. “The spirit of giving is there, and you would feel bad if you had to turn someone away for a particular reason.”
A policy implemented in 1985 by the FDA dictates that any man who has had sex with another man, even once since 1977, is considered as having an increased risk of HIV – and consequently is unable to give blood for fear of tainting the blood supply.
“This affects a lot of groups at some level,” Jarrod Stokes, SpectrUM president, said. “The Homecoming Committee has done a lot to even it out for all the groups – every group could be at a disadvantage for something.”
The blood drive is the fourth-highest point generator at UM out of a possible 14 events. Organizations are awarded points based on the percentage of their members who give blood during the Homecoming competition. There are also points for donating on a specific day and for donating platelets.
“That hurts us considering that the majority of our members are actually gay males,” Danny Alvarez, SpectrUM senator, said. “Most of our group is ineligible automatically.”
The Blood Products Advisory Committee of the FDA recently reviewed policies concerning high-risk sexual behavior and voted seven to six in favor of maintaining the current deferral policy.
“The rule is a remnant of back in the day when AIDS was seen as a gay disease and they automatically blanketed us,” Alvarez said. “Just because you are gay doesn’t mean you have sex with tons of partners or that you’re practicing risky behavior.”
“The reason we haven’t been protesting or been up in arms about it is because we recognize that the blood drive is a good thing and it saves lives, so it’s not like we want to mess with that or stop that,” Alvarez continued. “But we do recognize that there is discrimination and a discrepancy in the system inherently, and it’s not necessarily the Homecoming Committee or the University’s fault.”
However,Homecoming Committee officers say there is a way for SpectrUM to get Homecoming points from the blood drive despite the restrictions by the FDA.
“SpectrUM members aren’t necessarily penalized because they can bring an alternate to give in their place,” Castro said. “We encourage them to go out and talk to their friends that would not otherwise participate to donate for them.”
Although this alternative has been used in years past, members of SpectrUM say they still feel held back.
“It is hard to find replacements,” Stokes said, “when a lot of our friends are also gay.”
Alvarez said that having a blood drive is a positive thing, but he disagrees with how the Homecoming committee is handling the point distribution situation.
“Their response to us is to find people to donate in our place,” Alvarez said. “This is nothing they [don’t] ask of other groups that are participating – they can get others to donate for them and donate themselves, so we more than cut our numbers in half.”
Junior Debra Switkes, who will represent her sorority during Homecoming, says that SpectrUM should have a fair shot at earning points.
“I feel SpectrUM should have an alternative way of running points so they could have a fair share in the competition,” Switkes said. “We’d want the same opportunity to earn points as any other organization.”
According to Jefferson Lima, Hecht senator, if the Homecoming Committee keeps the points system the way it is, they have to realize they might be in support of a discriminatory policy set by the FDA.
“Removing the blood drive from Homecoming would damage the competition in a great sense, but I think to award points based on an event which will damage a particular group sends a message of discrimination,” Lima said.
Allison Gillespie, advisor to SpectrUM and director for special projects in the division of student affairs, said the points for the blood drive may provide an incentive for people who might not otherwise donate blood.
“I’m very proud of SpectrUM for embracing the event in the spirit of fun,” Gillespie said. “Their enthusiasm to participate should set a good example to all organizations.”
The Homecoming Committee is currently looking into this issue. The Miami Hurricane will continue to follow any developments or policy changes as they occur.
Amy S. Lawrence can be contacted at email@example.com.