STORIES
June 19, 2019

I'm A Gay Nurse And Was Banned From Giving Blood

I'm A Gay Nurse And Was Banned From Giving Blood

Brittany Hamstra BSN, RN

Update 6/19/2019

Since the article was originally published last year this issue has received even more attention. We are in the middle of Pride month and it is being reported that at least 7 of the 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates are calling for an end to the policy that bans gay and bisexual men from donating blood in the United States. This is the first year that the outdated policy has been addressed. 

"The one-year deferral period for male blood donors who identify as gay and bisexual has nothing to do with science or medicine and everything to do with outdated stigmas against the LGBTQ community," a spokesperson for Beto O'Rourke's campaign told The Independent

Original article 8/15/2018

Nurse Blake is well-known for his funny nursing videos and invention of the "scromper.” He's gained an impressive social media following of over 200,000 in less than 1 year! 

There's much more to Blake than his funny videos - what many don't know about Blake is that he created the Banned4Life movement while a nursing student. Blake was denied the chance to donate blood because of his sexual orientation and decided to take action. He relentlessly protested to the Federal Government and was successful in changing the policy governing blood donation by homosexual and bisexual men. 

Here's a great Podcast interview where Nurse Blake talks about the Banned4Life movement, his struggles and how the Federal Government has changed the ban to no longer be a ban "for life."

We had the privilege to get to know Blake on the phone and ask him some questions about his journey as a nurse and his inspiring accomplishments through Banned4Life. 

BH: What inspired you to become a nurse?

NB: I’ve always been a people person and very caring, ever since I was young. I don’t have one particular story like a lot of nurses do. For me, it was different – I always knew I was going to get into nursing. It was a quick transition from high school to college and I didn’t even consider a different career. It was just nursing. 

My dad has been a respiratory therapist for 25 years and mom is in medical device sales, and it was just the path I always wanted to take, and I took it. And I’m so happy I did.

Image source Facebook: Nurse Blake 

“Because you're a gay male. You’re banned for life” 

BH: What is the Banned4Life initiative that you started? 

NB: I was in nursing school in 2013 and witnessed a close friend who suffers from sickle cell anemia go in and out of the hospital during the school year to get frequent blood transfusions. Seeing her go through that inspired me to go out and donate blood. 

I had never donated blood before – I actually hate needles – but I thought, ‘You know, I’m going to give it a shot.’ So I went to my local blood donation center and filled out a 52-item questionnaire that evaluates eligibility to be a blood donor. 

Image source Facebook: Nurse Blake 

One of the techs brought me to the back room to review my questionnaire and she said, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t donate blood because you’re banned.’ And I asked, ‘Why am I banned? What makes me ineligible?’ And she replied, ‘Because you’re a gay male. You’re banned for life.’ So I walked out awkwardly and sat in my car outside, shocked and embarrassed. Because although I should be an eligible blood donor, I wasn’t, due to some outdated policy. 

When I got home, I thought about it for a little bit and I wished I could do something about it. But with some research, I found out the FDA had that policy in place (permanently banning gay and bisexual males donating blood) since 1983. So I thought to myself, ‘I’m just a nursing student, I’m not going to be able to change anything. I work part-time night shift as a tech, I don’t even have time.’ But as days went on, I thought I should at least try to do something about it. 

So, I started the organization Banned4Life. My nursing classmates really helped me get it off the ground. What started out as more of a school project, eventually turned into a national campaign. We initially wanted to raise awareness on the policy. Because we realized not a lot of people knew about it. We did that by hosting blood drives around the nation. At those drives, we collected petition signatures and encouraged eligible donors to donate blood in place of those who could not, like myself. We held over 20 blood drives nationwide. 

After 2 years of fighting to get our voices heard, the FDA, as of 2015, lifted the permanent ban on gay and bisexual males on donating blood. 

Image source Facebook: Nurse Blake 

“We are powerful in the fact that we are nurses. We are the most trusted profession. So when we do speak and use our voices, people do listen to us.”

I learned a lot along the way. I learned about the power that nurses and nursing students have. A lot of people think to initiate change in healthcare, you need a lot of fancy letters behind your name. And that’s simply not true. I was able to make change just as a nursing student. We are powerful in the fact that we are nurses. We are the most trusted profession. So when we do speak and use our voices, people do listen to us.

BH: Why do you think that antiquated policy had been in effect for so long until that point?

NB: It was just never really looked at. And that’s what we did, ultimately. We raised awareness on that outdated policy and with enough public pressure and everyone supporting us, the FDA listened.

Image source Facebook: Nurse Blake 

BH: In light of an event like the Pulse Nightclub tragedy in Orlando, how did the Banned4Life movement impact the LGBTQ+ community wanting to support victims by donating blood?

NB: So, while the FDA lifted the lifetime ban, there is still a deferral period in place that matches all other blood donor deferrals – meaning, a gay man, even myself, would need to practice abstinence for 12 months before donating blood. So it’s still a crazy policy in place, but Banned4Life was a move in the right direction. 

Although the Pulse tragedy happened after the Banned4Life movement changed the FDA policy there was still a lot of confusion. Of course, that community wanted to come together and donate blood, there were fake posts on social media saying that blood centers were taking blood from everybody, regardless of FDA policies. But that was not true, because there was still the 12-month deferral restriction in place. Like any tragedy, there’s a big call for blood donors, and people want to give. But a lot of people still can’t give because of that 12-month deferral restriction.

Image source Facebook: Nurse Blake 

“Speak up, use your voice, and surround yourself by people who support you.”

BH: Thinking back to the emotions you faced initially being turned away for blood donation, what advice would you give to those facing discrimination in their lives in some way?

NB: The way I see it, you either do one of two things. You can either not do anything about it, or you can try to do something about it. What Banned4Life taught me to do is what I would advise anyone – speak up, use your voice, and surround yourself with people who support you. You may feel powerless as just one individual, but I encourage you to think differently because you do have a lot of influence.

BH: How did you gain 200K+ social media followers in 1 year?  

NB: I’ve been a nurse for 4 years, and I started making funny nursing videos about a year ago. It all started with the scromper. The male romper came out last summer and it was just so funny – it cracked me up. Sometimes you just get these crazy ideas, like right on the spot, and have to run with it. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I have an idea for a scrub romper,’ which everyone now calls the scromper. I ran to my closet, got a pair of scrubs, cut them up, pinned them, and glued them together. 

I don’t know if people realize this, but the one that everyone has seen is not a nice outfit. It’s literally just pinned together, and the hems are a hot mess. So, I recorded a funny video of me dancing by the pool in my scromper and since the male romper trend was already so popular, the scromper took off. All the local news stations across the US were playing the video of me dancing in my scromper. 

Afterward, it gave me the idea to start making more videos and later Nurse.org approached me to help build a community of nurses. For video content, we work together and bounce a lot of ideas off each other and it’s so fun.

BH: What is your nursing background? 

I’m originally from Orlando, Florida, where I also attended a concurrent nursing program at the University of Central Florida. I graduated from nursing school in 2014 and shortly after went to Greenville, South Carolina to work on a step-down unit specializing in Pulmonary Medicine. Then life took me to Houston, Texas where I worked on an ICU floor that specialized in liver transplants. Afterward, I transferred to a level 1 trauma center working for the county on injury prevention. 

In 2017 I finally moving to downtown Seattle, Washington where I am now. So, for only being a nurse for 4 years, I have a pretty diverse work history and experience - I love that. Nursing provides us so many unique job opportunities - ones that allow us to interface with all kinds of patients and families. 

Being in nursing, we have the flexibility to work somewhere full time, part time, or per diem. Since I bounced around from Florida to South Carolina to Texas to Washington, people automatically ask me if I’m a travel nurse, and I’m like no – but I’m a nurse who travels.

Nurse Blake’s Nursing Scholarship

BH: I’ve also read that you are personally funding a scholarship for nursing students. Tell me a little about that scholarship and what inspired you to create it.

Image source Facebook: Nurse Blake 

NB: I’ve always wanted to give away a scholarship, even before I had my Nurse Blake social media presence. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, I just didn’t know how to do it. It’s a lot of money I would have to come up with to fund a scholarship. When I moved from Houston to Seattle, I really downsized, and I became more aware of where my money was going. 

I had gone to Starbucks every day since nursing school and I realized I probably spent $15,000 at Starbucks in my lifetime. And it made me think, ‘I spend so much money every day on coffee it’s crazy.’ Then I had the idea to quit drinking Starbucks. 

If I saved that $4 every day that I would otherwise spend on a Starbucks coffee, I thought I could easily save $1,500 a year, and that’s money I could give out as a nursing school scholarship. So that’s what I did. I quit drinking Starbucks back in March of last year. Just as a simple way to be able to give back.

BH: Last question – what’s one fun fact that nobody would guess about you?

NB: When I was in nursing school, I worked at Disney World in Orlando!

Red Cross Critical Blood Shortage - How You Can Help

In early July 2018, the American Red Cross issued an emergency call for blood donations of all types - blood banks continue to be critically low. 

The American Red Cross stated the following on their website

  • To schedule an appointment to donate, use the Blood Donor App, visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). 
  • Donation appointments and completion of a RapidPass online health history questionnaire are encouraged to help reduce the time it takes to donate.
  • As a special thank you, those who come out to give blood or platelets with the Red Cross July 26 through Aug. 31 will be emailed a $5 Target eGiftCard™.*

If you belong to a group that is banned from donating blood, Nurse Blake asks that you encourage others to donate in your place. 

Image source Facebook: Nurse Blake 

Nurse Blake is truly an inspiration. Not only within the profession, but his generosity and ambition clearly transcends the scope of nursing and will continue to change lives for years to come. Not to mention, he’s killing the scromper game.

 

Nurse.org

Find a job, learn, connect and laugh.

Try us out.

Join our newsletter