ORLANDO, United States (AFP) — As they mourn friends and partners murdered in the gay nightclub massacre, homosexual men in Orlando are eager to join in the rush of solidarity by donating blood for those victims still clinging to life.
But they are angry and frustrated: federal law imposes strict conditions to guard against HIV transmission. Gay men can only give if they have not had sex with another man for a year.
So while they say it is a relief to see many others lining up outside blood banks in suffocating heat for hours to donate in the wake of the attack that killed 49 and left 53 wounded — and the response has been described as overwhelming — gay men are forced to sit by and watch.
“I am married. I am gay and sexually active with my husband, of course. But I am ineligible to donate blood,” said Rob Domenico, a board member and chief fundraiser at The Center, Orlando’s main LGTB community center.
“So at a time when I am needed the most to help save my brothers and sisters, I can do nothing. So it is very frustrating,” he said at the center’s small, jam-packed headquarters, which has operated in crisis mode since the massacre in the wee hours of Sunday at the Pulse nightclub by gunman Omar Mateen.
The Center teemed with activity Monday as volunteers arranged appointments for people who need counseling after the carnage and took delivery of supplies — food, drink, even toiletries — for victims’ families.
A charity group brought in golden retrievers to serve as comfort dogs for people to pet. This therapeutic technique was also used after the Newtown school shooting in Connecticut in 2012, which left 26 dead, most of them small kids.
Outside The Center, Chris Callen, 34, said he knew Pulse very well — he worked there performing as a drag queen.
And his loss of friends in the attack was huge.
“I lost a total of seven — and I actually just found out I lost one more, on the phone,” he said, gesturing to his mobile and wincing.