At the Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, General Assembly meeting Oct. 18, four bills passed without incident. The fifth, Bill No. 55-09, sparked argument among the general assembly and led to a recess in the middle of discussion. The bill passed after over 17 minutes of debate about the rights of gay and bisexual men.
The bill, introduced by GA Representative for the Alliance of Queer & Ally Students Colin Wiebrecht, called for ASMSU to advocate against the Food & Drug Administration’s current one-year deferral policy on blood donations for men who have sex with other men. The deferral policy is the descendant of the original ban from the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
“It goes into the incorrect, discriminatory and false notion that HIV is only in the gay community,” Wiebrecht said.
He cited a Williams Institute study that indicated up to 615,000 pints of blood are turned away annually on the basis of the potential donor’s sexual activity.
“This received a lot of attention after the Pulse nightclub shooting. Many members of the community went to donate blood after the shooting and were turned away due to this policy,” Wiebrecht said. “It is still discriminatory. It still carries on the notion that stigmatizes HIV as a gay disease.
“There are testing procedures that can test for the disease now in the blood, but that still doesn’t erase the fact that this was a ban that only applied to gay and bisexual men, even though the disease does not discriminate.”
There was a murmur of agreement, and a couple of representatives stood to state their support of Wiebrecht’s stance, believing the deferral policy is tantamount to discrimination and should be advocated against.
It appeared this bill would pass in the same way as the others, until Sergei Kelley, the GA representative from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, raised his placard to speak. He was extremely critical of the bill.
“First, the bill is not very good. The bill assumes America, our communities, even this university at large, is anti-gay. This assumption leads to a second assumption that this inherent anti-gay discrimination has rooted itself in the FDA,” Kelley said. “The blood deferral policy is out of health concerns, it is not anti-gay. Countless studies show the harmful effects of homosexual activity or men having sex with other men.”
When reached for clarification Oct. 24, Kelley said he was referring to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, study from July 2002 showing the rate of HIV infection in gay and bisexual men is nine times higher than in women and straight men. The CDC’s current policy is to screen all blood for Type 1 and 2 HIV.
At this point in Kelley’s speech, Wiebrecht began to shout “point of order,” which ASMSU President Katherine “Cookie” Rifioitis granted.
“ASMSU has an explicit non-discrimination policy and I’m not going to stand by as my community is maligned and attacked by false notions that should be long gone,” he said.
A five minute recess was called. Some representatives went to use the bathroom or get water. Others huddled with those they agreed with on the issue and discussed it. Those unmoderated discussions were sometimes overheard getting loud.
After the recess was over, Vice President of Governmental Affairs Eli Pales spoke to try to bring order to the assembly.
“I think we shouldn’t be interrupting one another when we speak, each person gets their three minutes. I think whether you disagree or agree with their opinion, doesn’t give you permission to cut them off, even if it is an opinion that you find heinous,” he said. “I think some opinions on this GA are very outnumbered, so there’s gonna be a lot of time to respond to opinions that you find vile.”
Kelley next brought out a cardboard box, purportedly containing hundreds of pages of studies that labeled sexual contact between men as inherently dangerous.
“I am not fighting against people, I am fighting to promote healthy communities,” he said. “As a top research institution, we are to embrace science and the answers it provides; the real-life data.”
There were over 17 minutes of discussion after the recess on this bill alone. Dylan Catalano from the sophomore class council argued that Kelley’s claim that the deferral was based on increased HIV risk was incorrect, citing CDC policy.
“They already test all blood donated for HIV Type 1 and Type 2, so the current policy that exists is only based on discrimination,” Catalano said. “That is evident, because they are already able to see whether the blood that is donated has HIV in it or not.”
In the end, the bill passed, but not without considerable incident. The two bills that passed after Bill No. 55-09 — one related to voting on campus and another related to free printing–took up a combined 12 minutes of the meeting.
ASMSU has committee meetings at their office on the third floor of the Student Services Building Oct. 25. The next General Assembly meeting will take place in the International Center Nov. 1.