In the wake of the massacre Sunday at a gay nightclub in Orlando – which left 50 dead and 53 others seriously wounded – the community wanted to help.
The most obvious way to do so was to donate blood for treatment of the injured.
As pleas went out on social media for blood, gay men (and many others) flocked to blood-collection centres. They were brutally confronted by the "ban on gay blood." That the blood of gay men could be spilled in an act of hate but could not be donated in an act of love sparked widespread, palpable outrage.
There were rumours that the Florida blood bank OneBlood was lifting the ban, adding to the confusion.
In fact, there is no outright ban, but there are severe restrictions on gay or bisexual men who want to give the gift of life.
Men who have sex with men, "even once since 1977," were banned from donating blood between 1983 and 2015.
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires men who have sex with men to be celibate for one year before being eligible; no blood bank can opt out of federal laws. Health Canada, for its part, requires five years of celibacy, although they are currently reviewing a proposal to reduce that to one year. The rules are justified by fears that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be transmitted by blood, a concern that harks back to the early days of the tainted-blood tragedy, a public-health disaster that killed about 30,000 people in Canada alone.
But times have changed and science has evolved.
Today, blood can be tested for pathogens such as HIV, and the test is highly accurate. The FDA estimates that the theoretical risk of transmission is one in two million; Canadian Blood Services says there has not been a single case of blood transmitting HIV since the 1980s.
What we know, too, is that it is not sexual orientation that increases risk, but sexual practices.
What is justified is a ban on donations from people who engage in so-called high-risk activities such as unprotected sex (anal or otherwise) with multiple partners, paid sex work and injection-drug use.
It is frequency of partners and sexual practices that increase risk, not a hetero- or homo- or bi- or trans- prefix to describe one's sexuality.
That's what the rules on restricting donations need to make clear.
There is no suggestion that people infected with HIV (or hepatitis C or any other blood-borne infection) should be allowed to donate blood.
It is estimated that roughly 15 per cent of men who have sex with men are HIV-positive. That is no reason for excluding the other 85 per cent from donating blood.
Most gay men – like most straight men – are in stable, more-or-less monogamous relationships. If the restrictions on blood donation were lifted, collection would increase an estimated 2 to 4 per cent.
Safety is paramount, and some caution is in order. But at a time where demand for blood is soaring – even where there are not mass shootings – we cannot allow homophobia to trump science.