‘Game of Thrones’ SXSW Blood-Donation Contest Called Out by Gay Men: ‘It’s Discriminatory’
HBO partnered with the American Red Cross on a blood-donation campaign to attend the Season 8 premiere. But per FDA regulation, gay and bisexual men are banned.
How far would you go For The Throne?
HBO is asking Game of Thrones fans to prove their devotion and Bleed for the Throne by donating blood to the American Red Cross. The charitable challenge is part of a massive promotional campaign for the juggernaut franchise’s highly anticipated final season premiere. As an incentive, those who donate before March 12 will receive a limited edition blood-splattered Iron Throne t-shirt. They’ll also be entered to win a trip to the finale series premiere in New York City.
The catch: gay and bisexual men can’t compete.
The FDA mandates men abstain from sex with other men for 12 months before donating blood. The same withdrawal period goes for women sleeping with sexually active bisexual men. By partnering with the Red Cross on what’s marketed as their largest ever blood donation promotional effort by an entertainment company, HBO’s contest on paper effectively discriminates against gay men.
“It’s kind of a bummer,” said Erich Hazen, a Games of Thrones devotee from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “Here’s this really great prize, but you can’t have it because you’re gay.”
Hazen and several gay men questioned HBO about their exclusion on Twitter after Game of Thrones released a gory campaign video. Joe Stanieich-Burke, a 29-year-old from Londonderry, New Hampshire, frequently donated blood before coming out eight years ago. “It bothers me that my perfect, healthy gay blood isn’t a viable option unless I abstain from sex for 12 months, and that’s not gonna happen,” he said. “I consider this a right for gay men that is going widely unnoticed.”
To kick off Bleed for the Throne, HBO is hosting an immersive experience at SXSW this weekend. Per their press release, fans can “walk in the steps of the characters” after donating blood.
When The Daily Beast reached out for comment, HBO and the Red Cross issued a joint statement saying Bleed for the Throne at SXSW is open to those who cannot donate blood willing to wait in a standby line. For the national blood drive, those who can’t donate are able to enter the sweepstakes by contacting the Red Cross Donor Support Center.
These alternative means of entry were not included in press materials and social media posts. Representatives for both HBO and the Red Cross refused to say where, if at all, they publicized the non-donor options.
The Red Cross is facing a major blood shortage. Severe winter storms resulting in the closure of donation centers cost the organization an estimated 14,000 donations in January. HBO said they wanted to use Game of Thrones’ global platform to help end worldwide blood shortages. The campaign is simply following FDA eligibility guidelines for blood donation.
“The ban is really based on old science,” said Dr. Johnathan Applebaum. As Florida State University College of Medicine’s clinical services chair, he’s specialized in HIV research for 35 years. The ban dates back to 1983, when the FDA first placed a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men at the start of the AIDS epidemic. In 2015, they amended it to their current 12-month deferral, which also came under fire following the Pulse Nightclub Shooting in 2016 when numerous members of the queer community couldn’t donate blood.
For many, the frustration lies less with HBO or the Red Cross—it’s the FDA’s policies they’re angered by. All blood donations are already screened by the FDA for a host of potentially infectious diseases including Hepatitis C, Zika and HIV. The ban, Applebaum reasons, holds no weight. “I’m a gay man myself, and I think it’s discriminatory,” he said. “We don’t do the same thing for high-risk heterosexual couples.”
Gay men looking to donate are often encouraged to lie about their sexual history at donation centers. John*, a healthcare professional in Houston, Texas, who is not out his employers, refuses to do so. “If you go there and hide your sexuality, then you’re not forcing anybody to look at the ban itself and realize that it’s wrong,” he said. “People forget that it exists.”
Erich Hazen is eagerly awaiting the Game of Thrones final season premiere. After seven seasons and countless viewing parties with his friends, he’s excited to take the throne. But it’ll be bittersweet.
“All of these characters are coming into their own. They’re being who they are,” he said. “The Red Cross is using that to say come give blood when a lot of people can’t because they’re living authentic lives.”