By Molly Schiff
Assistant News Editor
At the University’s biannual blood drive, students are encouraged to donate more than just their blood. Not only will students and faculty who donate be rewarded with a $5 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card, but they will also have the chance to pay it forward by forgoing their caffeine fixes and donating their cards to residents of the Ali Forney Center (AFC), a homeless shelter for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans*) youth in New York City. The drive will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 3, and Wednesday, Feb. 4, in Beckham Hall.
Chris Caines ’16 organized this effort to highlight the injustices faced by many members of the LGBT community who are legally banned from donating blood, as well as the hardships faced by approximately 40 percent of homeless youth in the United States. This past December, a monumental shift in the United States Food and Drug Administration’s policy regarding blood donation of gay and bisexual men occurred. Although the new policy removed the lifelong ban on blood donors engaging in male homosexual activity, males must still abstain from sexual contact with males—and women from males who have had sexual contact with males—for a full year prior to donation in order to be eligible. The impracticality of this reform has not gone unrecognized by University student activists, spurring Monday and Tuesday’s event.
“Since we came to campus, we would get emails from blood drives all the time, and a lot of us aren’t eligible to donate blood, and I’ve always tried to come up with an idea that would both be respectful of the event but still draw attention to it,” Caines said.
Silvia Diaz-Roa ’15, the organizer of the blood drive, has worked to coordinate between Caines’s event and the Red Cross.
“I’m pretty excited about what’s happening,” Diaz-Roa said. “I think that it’s cool that Chris is doing this in support of the Red Cross, not boycotting it, because people need blood, and the Red Cross is actually one of the organizations that lobbies against this law.”
Caines wholeheartedly shares this attitude.
“When the Red Cross comes, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to be mad at them or to be mad at their workers because that’s like barking up the wrong tree,” Caines said.
According to Caines, his peaceful intentions led him to choose this underrepresented cause. More specifically, his project was formulated as an answer to these questions: What can we do to honor people who are being told that their self worth is less than that of others? How can we make them feel like they do have a voice and there are people who care about them?
In 2002, Carl Siciliano founded the AFC in memory of its namesake. Following a tumultuous adolescence as a gender-nonconforming teen living on the streets of New York City, he dedicated his life to mentoring LGBT youth. Though it started out small, today the AFC serves over one thousand teens annually, providing both temporary and emergency housing as well as counseling and a number of drop-in services.
Though Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards may not seem like a top priority for homeless LGBT youth, the Center has gladly accepted Caines’s donation offer. Caines explained that many young queer people will congregate in coffee shops, especially late at night and in the cold weather.
“A lot of times, [the AFC’s] clients will be kicked out of places that are open late because they’re not buying anything, so with Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards, they will be able to purchase something, and hopefully stay inside and stay warm a little bit longer,” he said.
Student volunteers will be collecting the gift cards at all times during the blood drive. At a table near the exit, students will have the option to stop and read literature about the project, which Caines hopes will encourage them to donate. He has tried to arrange for there to always be two volunteers covering the table, one LGBT-identified student and one ally.
Upon hearing about the project, University students who intend to donate blood are looking forward to donating their gift cards to the AFC.
“That’s a really great cause, because LGBT youth have a much higher rate of homelessness, and it’s an issue that so few people are aware of, or that gets so little attention in the discussion of LGBT issues, so it’s so great that people are donating, and I will definitely do that,” said Amanda Collins ’18. “It’s such a small thing we can do that can have such a positive effect.”
Gabe Borelli ’16 concurred.
“I think it’s an awesome idea that they’re helping the LGBT homeless community,” Borelli said. “I think it’s often forgotten about, especially in the mainstream media.”
Though it is not mandatory, event organizers are hopeful that students will be encouraged to donate more than just their blood this upcoming Tuesday and Wednesday.