Photo: Brooke Palmer | Lionsgate
The gory flicks in the “Saw” horror franchise are known for their blood and guts.
But also for their blood drives.
The Lionsgate studio has organized drives to coincide with the release of “Saw” films since 2004.
They’ve collected 120,000 pints of blood in the process.
On October 27, an eighth “Saw” film called “Jigsaw” (or “Saw VIII”) will be released. Another blood drive will be under way.
This time, however, the online ad campaign for “Jigsaw” features eight latex-laden LGBTQ social media stars dressed as nurses with the slogan “All Types Welcome.”
It’s not just a pun about blood types, but a reference to people who’ve been banned from donating blood by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Men are banned from giving blood if they’ve had sex with another man at any time in the previous 12 months.
In fact, earlier this week, former NSYNC singer Lance Bass expressed his frustration about the ban in reference to the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
“How is it STILL illegal for gays to donate blood?? I want to donate and I’m not allowed,” he tweeted.
What prompted the FDA rules
The blood ban dates back to the early 1980s, when the medical establishment first became aware of HIV, according to the HIV-education organization Avert.
Early into the HIV and AIDS crisis, doctors were concerned about how the virus was spreading in communities of the “4 Hs” — homosexuals, heroin users (intravenous drug users), hemophiliacs, and people of Haitian descent, said Eric Sawyer, vice president of policy at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a nonprofit in New York and the country’s oldest AIDS awareness organization.
Scientists eventually discovered the virus could be transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, breast milk, and semen.
In 1985, the FDA began recommending that blood donation sites refuse to accept blood from any man who, since 1977, had had sex with another man.
It took time for the medical community to learn how HIV operates, as well as to discover “there are antibodies to HIV infection which you can detect in blood screening which lets you know somebody is [HIV-]positive,” Sawyer explained.
Despite the present ability to test all blood donations for HIV and other viruses, men who have sex with men are still singled out in donations.
“The only thing that was codified into law that has stuck has been the ban against gay men giving blood,” he said.
After decades of protest by gay, bisexual, and transgender men and their allies over what’s called the “blood equality” issue, the FDA changed its policy in 2015.
The lifetime ban became a ban on donations from any man who had sex with a man in the past 12 months.
The Red Cross connection
Jodi Sheedy, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross, told Healthline the organization and its blood drives aren’t involved in the campaign associated with “Jigsaw.”
It’s been affiliated with previous “Saw” films, however.
On its website, the American Red Cross — which collects about 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply — says the one-year deferral for men who have sex with men “aligns... with those for other activities that may pose a similar risk of transfusion-transmissible infections.”
For example, potential donors through the Red Cross must also wait 12 months if they’ve gotten a body piercing with a reusable gun or any other reusable instrument.
Same, too, for anyone who’s gotten a tattoo in a state that doesn’t regulate tattoo parlors.
Additionally, people who’ve been treated for sexually transmitted diseases also have to defer donations. A person has to wait 12 months after treatment for syphilis or gonorrhea to donate blood.
The FDA’s regulations still stigmatize men who have sex with men, activists say.
“This particular ban has absolutely no medical or scientific justification any longer,” said Sawyer. “Basically, it comes down to an issue of science and human rights.”
Groups like GMHC point out that men who have sex with women can contract HIV from them as well, as can women who have sex with women.
Yet the FDA’s regulations exclude men who have sex with other men, regardless of whether they practice safe sex.
Blood is screened before being distributed to those who need it.
The Red Cross website states, “All donated blood is tested for HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis and other infectious diseases before it can be released to hospitals.”
‘It’s a good message’
The online campaign for “Jigsaw” was created by Tim Palen, Lionsgate’s chief brand officer.
It includes drag queen Amanda Lepore, personal trainer Dan Rockwell, and burlesque performer Mosh.
Two dozen cities around the country will hold mobile blood drives. People who donate will receive a free ticket to see “Jigsaw” when it debuts.
Cities, dates, and hours for donations can be found on the Jigsaw Blood Drive website.
In an email, a Lionsgate representative declined to provide more information about the blood drives or the ad campaign.
Michael Musto, a former Village Voice columnist and an icon in the New York City gay community, approves of the “Jigsaw” campaign.
“I love the fact that a movie’s campaign is using social activism to promote itself,” Musto told Healthline. “In these days of protest and everyone having a voice, it’s a good message, and should pave the way for more films to make a statement with their campaigns.”
Sawyer is also appreciative of the statement being made by the movie’s online ads.
“That they’re choosing to use this ad campaign to draw attention to the blood ban, I think is terrific,” he said. “I really applaud any organization or any product that attempts to raise social consciousness and promote social change in its commercial advertising of its product.”