Ithaca students start 'blood bucket challenge' to protest FDA donation rules

A recent graduate of Ithaca College started a campaign urging students to pour gallons of fake blood on themselves to protest what they perceive as discriminatory blood donation guidelines.

Kyle James, the campaign mastermind and former vice president of academic affairs in Ithaca’s Student Government Association, started the “My Blood Is Good” campaign last month after becoming aware of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ability to reject blood donations from gay people, like himself.

The campaign started when he took a picture of himself in front of an American Red Cross sign with the caption #MyBloodIsGood. James encouraged others who were deferred to take similar pictures of themselves with blood donation logos on social media and attach the hashtag in protest.

In addition to the social media hashtag, the campaign’s Facebook page features pictures of over a dozen other Ithaca students covered in blood taken by the Senior Class President Marlowe Padilla with captions such as “Defer ‘with discretion’ for trans/queer identifying individuals” and “Defer for 12 months from the most recent contact with a man who had had sex with another man during the past 12 months”—all direct or nearly direct quotes from the FDA recommendations which were revised in 2015 to allow gay men to donate.

The Facebook page also hosts a variety of visitor posts, including one from a student who criticized the FDA for the guidelines, saying, “Let’s have a discussion about how the FDA blood donation laws target marginalized communities.”

“Let’s not forget exchange [sic] sex for money is a lifetime ban,” another commenter adds. “If you have sex with someone for free you can donate, but if you have sex with that same person for money you can never donate. Makes no sense.”

In order to prevent the transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the FDA recommends that potential donors who have engaged in homosexual activity in the past 12 months, as well as females who have had sex during the past 12 months with a homosexual man, defer from donating blood for 12 months.

“The FDA carefully considered alternative deferral criteria, such as individual risk assessment for individual HIV risk … However, evidence shows that self-reporting presents significant issues in the U.S.,” Tara Goodin, FDA spokeswoman, told USA Today College.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, gay and bisexual men are more severely affected by HIV than any group in the United States, accounting for an estimated 63 percent of new HIV infections in the United States and 78 percent of infections among all newly infected men in 2010. At the end of 2011, 57 percent of the 500,022 people living with an HIV diagnosis were gay and bisexual men.

In the online petition on, James claims that the FDA should focus on dangerous sexual behaviors, not identities.

“I completely acknowledge that there is more risk among these communities but … this shouldn’t be geared towards people’s identities, but rather their sex practices,” James argued.

In an effort to keep HIV and other blood-borne diseases out of the blood supply, the FDA also indefinitely defers individuals who have ever tested positive for HIV, individuals who exchange sex for money or drugs, and individuals who have ever engaged in intravenous drug use that was not prescribed.

“To best protect the blood supply in the U.S., the FDA based this policy update on what we know about HIV epidemiology in the U.S. today,” Goodin explained.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @marl_boro26