GMHC takes Blood Equality push overseas

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One New York-based nonprofit is expanding its campaign to eliminate bans on gay and bisexual men donating blood to overseas markets.

GMHC, also known as Gay Men's Health Crisis, has expanded its Blood Equality push internationally, where many developed countries turn away gay and bisexual men who want to donate blood.


The campaign, Blood Flags, is incorporating art pieces into an education and advocacy push to get policies changed in countries including the U.S., Canada, Germany, Brazil, and Australia.


“The latest piece you're seeing now is showing it's not just a U.S. issue; it's a global issue,” said Rich Levy, chief creative officer at FCB Health. “So many countries around the world position themselves as being friendly to the LGBTQ community and yet are discriminatory in this way; countries where gay marriage legal, but gay and bisexual men are not allowed to donate blood.”


FCB Health, which developed the campaign with GMHC, has been working with the nonprofit pro bono for more than two years. The organization and FCB launched the Blood Equality campaign at the end of 2017.


The specific Blood Flags push is set for launch on social media on June 14, which is World Blood Donor Day. The actual flags will be made into prints for installations and outdoor ads and will be displayed at GMHC's headquarters and at Pride events throughout June. The agency is also sharing the news and flags with LGBTQ media to amplify the message.


Another component of the campaign is working with governments to change policies. GMHC has met with the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the U.S. policy. That meeting resulted in the FDA opening up the possible policy change for public comment, the first step in actually altering it.


“We knew just shouting about the issue wasn't enough,” said Mike Devlin, EVP and group creative director at FCB Health. “We needed the scientific background to provide the government with scientific support they were going to require to change policy.”


GMHC also convened the Blood Equality Medical Advisory Board, staffed with experts on infectious diseases and leaders of advocacy groups, to get that information to the FDA.


The FDA's policy was also criticized after the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 after which gay men in Orlando wanted to donate blood to help their community, but were refused. GMHC launched a similar campaign at the one-year anniversary of the Pulse shooting to advocate for the same policy change.


In December 2015, the FDA changed its policy from a lifetime ban on donations from men who have sex with men to a 12-month celibacy requirement. However, GMHC considers this policy discriminatory and a de facto ban for many gay and bisexual men.


“We challenged [the FDA] to come to the table, to debate us, and tell us what information they do not have on hand to change the policy,” Devlin said. “We were in the room with them having discussions about clinical trials and getting the research necessary to change the policy.”


Countries such as the U.S. and U.K. have dropped lifetime bans on blood donation by gay and bisexual men and replaced them with celibacy requirements. Last year, the U.K. went further and lowered its celibacy requirement from 12 to three months. Other countries, like Mexico, Spain, and South Africa have no restrictions on blood donation.

GMHC is trying to spread its momentum abroad with Blood Flags first by drawing attention to policies in other LGBTQ-friendly countries, then by meeting with government agencies responsible for changing them.


Devlin said the organization has talked to leaders in all countries in which the Blood Flag push is happening and has made progress on U.K. policy.


“Our mission with blood flags was to continue put pressure on governments and make sure we can unify these campaigns on broader scale,” Devlin said. “[Another goal is] to show people it is a human issue and no matter what country you're living in, you can stand up.”


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