Battle over blood
When nurses from Blood Bank of the Redwoods set up their needles, blood machines and cartons of high-fructose juice at Sonoma State University last week, 94 students, faculty and staff members donated blood.
Math professor Rick Luttmann was not one of them.
He was ineligible, he said, because of a federal Food and Drug Administration ban on blood donations from men who had had sex with men. A ban that he said amounts to unlawful discrimination.
Blood drives are the newest battleground for SSU faculty members who, led by Luttmann, are out to purge organizations on the 8,500-student campus they say discriminate against gays .
In a resolution to the school's Academic Senate, Luttmann has asked that SSU discontinue all campus blood drives because the FDA ban violates the school's anti-discrimination policy.
Blood bank officials say SSU accounts for about 5 percent of the regional blood supply.
SSU's administration has not taken a position on the proposed resolution, said Susan Kashack, university spokeswoman.
It is not the first time faculty members have argued against allowing an organization on campus because of similar concerns. In October, SSU canceled a $15,000 athletic sponsorship deal with the Army after faculty members complained that the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gay service members violated the campus policy.
If the blood bank resolution is approved by the faculty, as Luttmann predicts it will be, it will go the administration to decide whether blood drives can be continued on campus.
"The blood banks say if you are gay you are second-class, your blood isn't worthy," Luttmann said. "If the administration is really serious about the nondiscrimination policy, then we can't tolerate blood banks."
Luttmann's proposal comes on the heels of a San Jose State University decision in January to ban blood banks from conducting drives there because of discrimination issues.
While San Jose State students supported the ban, many SSU students appear to oppose it.
"People need access to blood. At any moment someone could need a transfusion," said student Skye Nashelsky, president of the Queer Straight Alliance. "The FDA is discriminating, but it's people who need blood who would be punished if we banned blood drives."
Men who have had sex with men since 1977 are eliminated from the donor pool because the FDA recognizes them as a risk of HIV infection.
The Red Cross and blood banks across the nation, including Blood Bank of the Redwoods, support lifting the lifetime ban on blood donations from such men, said Kent Corley, spokesman for Blood Bank of the Redwoods. Current HIV tests screen blood with minimal problems, he said.
However, Corley also said the ban relates to sexual history and not sexual orientation and does not constitute discrimination.
He cautioned SSU faculty against their effort.
"If we can't call on the community to step up the blood supply because of an issue like this, it would be unfortunate. People would not get the blood they need," he said.
"SSU represents a big donor base for us," Corley said, noting 350 new donors sign up at Sonoma State every year.
Last year, SSU students, faculty and staff donated 619 units of blood in 12 drives, said Diana Nation, chairwoman of JUMP, a community-building student association on campus.