Stefan Sultan, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
I woke up the morning of June 12 to a notification from the Associated Press that 49 people had been killed during a shooting at a nightclub in Florida. At first, I wasn’t sure how to feel. I was sad to hear about the lives lost, but ever since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, I have become somewhat desensitized to the seemingly frequent mass shootings in the U.S.
It was only when I learned that this shooting had happened at a gay nightclub that I began to cry. In that moment, I realized this had not been just an act of terror but an act of hate directed at the LGBT community.
Because she was gay, Kimberly Morris never made it home on June 12. Because of one victim’s sexual orientation, his father refused to claim his body. Because they were at an establishment that not only accepted members of the LGBT community, but welcomed them with open arms, 49 people were killed in cold blood.
The nightclub shooting in Orlando was not the first time the LGBT community has been the target of hate or violence. But some of us in the LGBT community are too young to remember darker times our community faced. We have never experienced police raids at gay bars or watched a presidential administration turn a blind eye to the AIDS epidemic.
The attack in Orlando shocked us. After all, young LGBT people live in a world where police officers propose to their boyfriends during pride parades, the U.S. president supports LGBT rights and the Supreme Court recognizes our right to marry.
Despite the progress that the LGBT community has made, the Pulse nightclub shooting still shouldn’t be unimaginable, because some people are filled with hatred for LGBT individuals today. This tragedy was likely fueled by homophobia, which has become prolific enough throughout our public discourse and political policy that as victims of the massacre lay in hospital beds in desperate need of blood transfusions, gay and bisexual men were banned from helping fellow members of their community.
As many conservative politicians said they stood with us and condoned the attack at Pulse, they failed to mention that gay and bisexual men had to watch their LGBT peers bleed out without being able to donate blood. In many ways, that was the cruelest irony.
U.S. blood donation guidelines currently state that men must wait an entire year after having sex with another man before they are allowed to donate blood. One would imagine that this guideline would be rooted in facts, rather than in ignorance and fear. Yet there is no scientific proof to back up the ban on gay and bisexual men’s blood donations. And although the current guideline replaced a previous lifetime ban, the current protocol still serves as a de facto lifetime ban for most gay and bisexual men.
It is true that it may have made sense to restrict blood donations at the height of the AIDS / H.I.V. epidemic in the 1980’s. At that time, we didn’t have the technology to screen blood quickly or understand the source of the virus. But today, the ban is indefensible.
Ever since I was 17 – old enough to donate blood – I always volunteered for blood drives at high school. Despite the brief discomforts of giving blood, I’ve always felt that the lifesaving benefits outweigh the the momentary pain. As such, for much of my young adult life, I proudly donated my blood – until I became barred because of my sexuality.
When I came out to my entire high school school during a meeting for worship – a time of silent meeting we had at my Quaker school – I stood up and paraphrased Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If it is true that the arc of the moral universe is long, yet it bends towards justice, then it is my hope that one day this coming out will no longer be necessary nor courageous, and that it will be just as normal for a kid to say they are gay as it is to say that they are straight.”
I’m luckier than many LGBT people because I’ve grown up in a time when acts of hate, such as the one in Orlando, seem antithetical to the seemingly gay-friendly spirit of the 21st century. Yet as I sat and watched the bloodshed in Orlando, I was reminded that I couldn’t even do my part to help.
When my friend and I arrived in New York for the New York City Pride Parade last year we were ecstatic. Not only was it our first pride parade, but the Supreme Court had just extended marriage equality to all 50 states just two days before. Finally, it had seemed, that full equality had been extended to all LGBT Americans and all of New York was ready to celebrate.
My mood on that day was markedly different from this year’s Pride. As I began to make my way uptown, fully decked out in every rainbow piece of apparel I owned, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. Given the events at Orlando, and the fact that I was completely alone, I began to wonder if I should just take a taxi to the location my friend and I had agreed on. Despite my nerves, I decided I would probably be fine walking.
As I continued to walk, I passed a woman who turned to me with a giant smile and emphatically exclaimed “Happy Pride!” At first I was taken aback. For some reason, this kind gesture was not something that I was expecting after the Orlando shooting. After taking a moment to comprehend what this person had just said to me I smiled back and said “Happy Pride.”
As I walked away, I teared up for what was at least the 10th time since the shooting. Yet this time my tears were not caused by a horrific and needless act of hate, but from the random, however small, act of kindness from a stranger. While homophobia and hate may never be fully defeated, we can take steps to lessen them, whether through kind words to a stranger or through legislation ending the ban on gay blood donations.
I still believe that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, no matter how long it may seem after events like those in Orlando. It is in pursuit of the seemingly unremitting quest to reach the end of that arc that we must take action.
While there is still a long way until we reach the end of the arc of the moral universe, one way to start is to finally end the archaic ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” So go. Call your senator, write your Congressperson and get in touch with your state representatives. And when November comes around, vote for those who will fight to end the ban on blood donations.
The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it will still take work to get there.
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