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Seeing red over blood: an interview with Uri Horesh


By Sidney Fletcher




Uri Horesh was an IU instructor arrested on a Red Cross bus after protesting the policy of not taking blood donations from men who have sex with men.
Sidney: Is there anything you’d like to address about the events of that day?

 Uri Horesh: The main thing I wanted to address was one allegation in the police report that was widely reported and was completely false, and from my point of view, the most troubling for two reasons — that one, it didn’t happen, and two, that it accused me of something immoral and violent. Specifically,
I’m referring to the charge that I spit on one of the Red Cross workers. As someone who all my life has practiced a philosophy of nonviolence, I would never spit on someone or do something rude and insolent like that. I know for a fact I did not do it and so when I know for a fact that the only reason that I am charged of it is because the person that accuses me of it knew that I was gay, because I told her so.
This event is even more troublesome and shows you how the policy of the Food and Drug Administration is so antiquated and, in an essential way, goes beyond assuring that the blood supply is not tainted with HIV. It goes into the mindset of even the educated people who work for the Red Cross, who are supposed to know how HIV is transmitted, who are supposed to know that people can be gay and healthy. And yet, this woman — for the sole reason of me being a person who was trying to uphold the University’s own nondiscrimination policy — decided that I was a violent person.
This is something that upsets me very much and upsets me even more than the University police, who came to the site with no intention of listening to what I had to say, without any intention of listening to my side of the story, without any willingness to uphold the University’s own nondiscrimination policy. Now I want to ask the chief of police, if the Red Cross or any other guest of the University brought a bus to campus and decided that they wanted to discriminate against minorities, say no Jews in our facility on campus — would he still allow that? Would the University allow that? If they said no women allowed in our bus, would they allow that? If they said no African-Americans, would they allow that?
I strongly doubt that. But for some reason, when it comes to gay men and LGBT people, for some reason that is acceptable and that is acceptable because in our society homophobia is not yet risen to the same degree of unacceptability as other forms of bigotry, such as misogyny and racism.
I think that is something we should be really cognizant of and very much aware of and it’s upsetting that the university has a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, yet it doesn’t uphold it in the same manner that it upholds in other domains.

SF: Do you believe that IU should institute a ban on Red Cross bloodmobiles
on campus?

UH: I think they should do one of two things. They should either not allow blood drives to occur on campus if this is the policy that is in place, or they should stipulate that if blood drives occur on campus then such a ban should not be implemented. There are some universities and colleges that when they host blood banks, they stipulate that they must occur off the grounds of the university. They have to occur outside the gates of the university in order for their nondiscrimination policies not to be violated. And if that had been the case, I would have not done what I did. I would not just go into a Red Cross building anywhere and do what I did. I did what I did because it was in a university where discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation is prohibited. Such discrimination is not prohibited in Indiana at large, it’s not prohibited in the United States at large, but it is barred at Indiana University.
IU does not allow exclusion of participants on the basis of sexual orientation on any activity in the University. That’s something IU should uphold regardless of who is sponsoring or subcontracting that particular activity. And anything that the University or the administration or the police chief is saying that is trying to sidetrack us from that fact is nothing but a very sorry excuse for not upholding IU’s own policy because the values and interests of the University are to fight on the side of its own people including minorities like sexual minorities on campus.

SF: Why do you think the FDA still has this discriminatory policy in place?

UH: The FDA has this policy because in 1982 when it was implemented, the only thing people knew about AIDS was that it was the “gay cancer.” People really don’t know anything about it. The virus HIV was only discovered years later and only later was it discovered how it was transmitted and that anyone can contract HIV. What people knew was that it was the gay disease, because patient zero was gay, and the people contracting it were gay males in Europe and San Francisco and so forth. And indeed the people who were at high risk for many, many years were in the gay community and there’s no doubt about that, nobody’s disputing that. However, in recent years, there has been so much awareness, so much education among the LGBT community and particularly among gay men that there’s been a decrease in infection in the LGBT community and an increase in other communities. People within the gay community are aware, they know. I could have come to the blood bank with a document that I have from two months ago showing them that I was tested, because I get tested two or three times per year because that’s the norm within the gay community. You have to get tested.
This policy was put into place so long ago, over just about 30 years ago when all people knew was that AIDS equals the gay disease. In most of the United Kingdom, just a few months ago the ban was changed to a 12-month deferment, meaning if instead of asking if you have ever had sex with another man since 1977, they ask if you have had sex with another man in the last 12 months. But that’s still quite discriminatory because you don’t ask that question of heterosexual people, even those that are in HIV high-risk groups. So I still think that there is a lot of homophobia behind the policy.

SF: In the IDS article, Vice Provost Tom Gieryn said, “Our primary concern is for the students … Students might be curious why he was arrested, or students might be concerned when they learned the nature of his behavior.” Do you agree with Vice Provost Gieryn’s argument that faculty’s ability to protest should be controlled by student expectations?

UH: I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about. I completely disagree. If I interpret what he’s saying correctly, he says that the First Amendment does not apply to University faculty, and that’s pure interpretation and I think maybe what you should do is call someone from the law school, maybe someone who is an expert in constitutional law, and ask them how they interpret this because I clearly have no freaking idea what the fuck he’s talking about.

­— sidfletc@indiana.edu

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