University of Central Florida student Blake Lynch is prohibited from donating blood, but that’s not stopping him from rallying others who can to help save lives.
In February, Lynch went to a blood center in Central Florida to donate on behalf of his friend Emmy Derisbrun, who suffers from sickle-cell anemia.
“What that does is cause her a lot of pain, and she needs blood transfusions to save her life,” Lynch said. “She inspired me to donate blood, which I had never done before.”
But after filling out a questionnaire about his health history, Lynch was told that he couldn’t give blood that day or ever. He was banned for life because of a federal policy that bars blood donations from men who have had sexual contact with other men since 1977.
With the support of his partner of nearly three years, Brett Donnelly, and fellow UCF students, Lynch created Banned4Life.org, a campaign that brings attention to the blood shortage and the restrictions on potential donors.
Banned4Life.org will host a blood-drive rally from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Rollins College’s Tars Plaza. Lynch and campaign supporters will collect petition signatures and encourage eligible donors to give blood in place of those who can’t. Interested donors can schedule appointments online now.
The campaign champions an overturning of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men.
The ban was passed in 1983 in the wake of the AIDS crisis before blood-screening tests that more reliably detect HIV became available. In the decades since, science has improved, Lynch said, but the legislation hasn’t caught up.
In addition to encouraging social equality, Lynch hopes to raise awareness of blood donation and its ability to save lives.
“I’m a perfectly healthy individual, and blood is asked for all the time. This policy doesn’t just affect me and other gay men, but it impacts people who need blood, like Emmy,” said Lynch. “That’s why we encourage people to donate blood in our place.”
Lynch is a student in UCF and Seminole State College’s concurrent ASN-BSN Nursing program, which allows him to earn his associate and bachelor’s degrees simultaneously.
“There’s a shortage of blood across the nation, and Blake’s questioning an outdated restriction and calling out a challenge,” said Angela Ritten, an assistant professor of nursing at UCF who taught Lynch his freshman year. “He’s taken a problem that is personal to him and a fellow UCF student—being denied from giving blood on her behalf—and ran with such a larger global perspective.”
Lynch says that the policy—and his movement—are larger than him. According to America’s Blood Centers, someone needs blood every two seconds. About 40,000 pints of blood are needed each day, but less than 10 percent of those eligible to give blood donate each year, the nonprofit says.
“As a nursing student, I’m an advocate for patients and their families,” said Lynch. “It’s my job to make sure there’s blood for everyone in the community. It’s so important that people go out and donate.”