The No Shame Zone

One young person’s subversive thoughts on church and society


Tad HoppThe FDA still doesn’t want gay blood
A recent change to policy underscores continuing discomfort with sex in our society and church.

by Tad Hopp

Recently, the FDA lifted the decades-old ban on gay men donating blood. This ban was put into effect at the height of the HIV pandemic and was intended to ensure that donated blood was not infected with HIV. Since then, hundreds of healthy, non-infected gay men have been prevented from donating blood.

Sadly, many of these men will even now not be able to donate. Rather than lift the ban entirely, the FDA says that you can only give blood if you have not been sexually active with another man for at least one year. This means that even if you have had protected, safe sex and are completely clean of all STIs, you still are banned from donating blood.

The policy essentially communicates what many of my own Christian ilk have been trying to convince the world for decades—that identity and practice can be divorced, that you can love (and treat justly) the LGBTQ person while hating (and discriminating against) the “sin.”

The policy shames the hundreds of sexually active gay men in this country. Gay men already face the stigma of being labeled as promiscuous by the straight community. Now, they are supposed to feel like their blood isn’t good enough because it has been “tainted” by the sin of sex.

The policy reveals our social and religious discomfort with sex altogether, especially intimacy that occurs outside the carefully prescribed boundaries of heterosexual (and patriarchal) married sex.

This discomfort is applied also to women who simply want to have equal pleasure and power in a sexual relationship.

In a society so pervaded by sex (especially in marketing and media), it is ironic that we still are so uncomfortable with it. It seems we’d prefer to commercialize and objectify bodies and sex more than we would ever want to have a frank conversation about intimacy.

Nowhere is sex a more shameful topic than in the church. More often than not, sex doesn’t even come up at church. If it is talked about, it’s typically only in the context of heterosexual marriage (preferably for the purposes of conceiving a child). Or, it’s to tell people to abstain from it. Even though it has been demonstrated that abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work, our schools continue to promote abstinence-only education (and don’t even get me started on the fact that very few schools talk about the possibility of gay sex).

The irony is that sex shows up a great deal in the Bible. Ever read Song of Solomon? Or the Book of Genesis? The Bible spends a great deal of time both portraying sexual relationships (loving as well as violent ones) and discussing the ethics and theology of sex. Even Paul, who counsels abstinence, still talks about sex!

So, if our own Holy Book talks so much about sex, why do we spend so much time avoiding the topic?

Certainly, it’s true that the Bible’s presentation of sex doesn’t always accord with what we’d deem faithful and loving intimacy (or with the Bible’s own overarching ethical standards). And certainly there are a few verses that at least on the surface appear to denounce same-sex intimacy (I won’t get into the complex exegesis of these passages right now). But if the Bible doesn’t shy away from grappling openly with the many forms of sexuality and its many complexities, neither should we.  

Just as the Bible presents an array of sexual relationships, so too will you find an array among the gay community. There seems to be this narrative out there that describes a bunch of promiscuous men traipsing around from partner to partner, never settling down and always ready for the next sexual escapade. I’m not going to lie and tell you that there aren’t gay men out there like that. I’m not going to lie and say there aren’t straight men like that either. However, just as in the straight world, gay men come in all shapes and sizes and desires. Many believe whole-heartedly in monogamy. I’ve even met gay men who plan to stay celibate until marriage. And now in my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), some of those men are pledging themselves to one another in holy covenant and faithful marriage.

The FDA, I’m sure, had noble intentions when they decided to modify the ban. They’ve said that despite the possibility of screening for HIV, blood tests don’t always reveal the presence of the virus (tests can be negative for about nine days after infection). But of course there is no such rule for straight people. A straight person can have as many sexual partners as they want, and as long as they are clean and disease free, they can still give blood. We have a word for that kind of action: discrimination. Yes, folks, this is discrimination couched under the guise of inclusivity.

Even more than the lifting of this ban, however, I want to see a robust, open, and safe conversation in our churches and in our society about sex. I want to see a celebration of the many forms of sexuality and expression. I know there are going to be a lot of different viewpoints out there, including some completely opposed to queer sexuality. But we’ve got to start talking, and we’ve got to start doing so in a way that isn’t shaming. Let’s wrestle with these difficult Scripture passages. Let’s invite different experiences, questions, desires, and theological and ethical viewpoints. Let’s talk about premarital sex, queerness, safe sex, marriage, rape, gendered power, and anything else relevant. Let’s explore what makes sex good, healthy, and faithful, as well as what can make it destructive, oppressive, and unfaithful.

It is 2016, people. Let’s catch up.

Tad Hopp graduated in May 2015 from San Francisco Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity. He enjoys a good movie, singing karaoke, and anything involving the arts (theater, ballet, opera), and is a self-proclaimed Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter nerd! He served as a Young Adult Volunteer in Chicago (2010–2011) working with the homeless queer population. He is a lifelong Presbyterian, an ordained ruling elder and deacon, and currently a candidate for ordination.