Last week Reuters ran a story about the movement to do away with the ban on blood donation from gay men in America. In 1983, with the AIDS epidemic raging, the FDA prohibited gay men from giving blood because of fears of increasing transmission of the virus. But the American Medical Association and American Red Cross now say the ban is “discriminatory” and “not based on sound science.”
Into which fray arrives the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law at UCLA. The Williams Institute has produced a study on the subject that concludes, claims Reuters, that lifting the ban will “save more than a million lives a year.” (What the study actually says is that it could “help save the lives of more than 1.8 million people.” A claim that is both more and less expansive than Reuters allows.)
Speaking of sound science, we wonder how blood donated by gay men could possibly save anything like one million lives per year, considering that America averages roughly 2.5 million deaths per year, in toto. According to the CDC, the leading causes of death are heart disease (596,000) and cancer (576,000). So Reuters and the Williams Institute are claiming (or, if you want to be more charitable, merely insinuating) that allowing gay men to give blood would save nearly as many lives annually as curing cancer and heart disease, combined.
There’s something about LGBT issues that clouds the mind when it comes to numbers. For instance, a few months ago the Department of Defense released a study claiming that there were 15,500 “transgendered” soldiers in the Army. With 1,369,532 active-duty personnel, that would mean that an incredible 1.13 percent of all soldiers were transgendered. Does that sound right to you? But forget how it sounds—according to a massive CDC study of American sexual preferences, only 1.6 percent of the U.S. population identifies as gay or lesbian. Which means that to believe the Pentagon’s claim, you’d have to believe that transgendered soldiers make up the same proportion of the military as gays and lesbians in American society—a claim that strains credulity.
But then, credulity is more like credulousness when it comes to these things. For decades, some gay activists insisted that 1 out of every 10 Americans was homosexual. And since contradicting these claims was tantamount to “homophobia,” most people went along with it. So much so that in 2011, Gallup surveyed people and asked them what percentage of the population they thought was gay. And they found that the average American believes that 25 percent of the country is gay or lesbian.
Of course, if they’ve been consuming a steady diet of news like that Reuters report, this last number is at least understandable.