A limited-edition t-shirt by Zain Curtis was produced with ink containing the blood of gay men. (all images courtesy the artist)

A California artist is selling t-shirts made with the blood of gay men to protest anti-LGBTQ+ donation guidelines dating back to the AIDS crisis. 

In shirts and tote bags, Palm Springs painter and textile artist Zain Curtis draws attention to a 1983 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guideline prohibiting men who have sex with men from donating blood in the United States — a variation of which still exists today. The screenprint design shows a nude figure in a latex gimp mask standing on their head, along with the phrase “How to Meet Horny Married Dads in Your Area in a God-Honoring Way.”

Zain Curtis uses Gay Blood Screenprint Ink to produce his t-shirts.

A collaboration with the New York-based shop Mother Goods, the limited-edition pieces were printed using red ink infused with the blood of Mother workers. British artist Stuart Semple developed Gay Blood Screenprint Ink as a “tool for bloody change” and a “big fuck you” to the FDA.

Several images show the t-shirt and a can of ink, which notes that the blood is “perfectly safe to use” despite “homophobic policies,” and the first line of t-shirts are now for sale on the artist’s Happy Devil Boy website.

Blood bans were initially imposed to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, when information and testing were limited. Since then, public health officials and human rights organizations have advocated for the policy’s removal, particularly due to the required screening of every donation. In 2015, the FDA replaced lifetime bans with a 12-month abstinence stipulation, which was further reduced to three months after the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the last year, amid continued blood shortages around the country, the FDA has considered replacing the deferrals with individual risk assessments, which they claim will be “gender neutral and science-based.”

For Curtis, however, incremental measures fail to address the systemic harm imposed on generations of queer men, including the notion that homosexuality is inherently dangerous.

“Even though the ban is starting to relax in some areas, you see how easy it is to fall right back into place,” Curtis told Hyperallergic. “When successful LGBTQ+ laws are passed, you see double and triple anti-laws wedged behind them. It’s targeting marginalized groups to demonize and cause fear by dog-whistling that queer people are wrong and shouldn’t exist in their Christian fantasy.”

The tag included on each t-shirt

Along the shirt’s back collar, Curtis added a tag noting that “33-46% of HIV infections could be averted in the next decade if sex work was decriminalized.” That statistic was pulled from a 2014 study of Asian sex workers in The Lancet medical journal, which found that access to healthcare may help permanently stop the spread of HIV.

In this way, Curtis brings a long history of government neglect into sharp focus.

“Queer people are not morally absent by design, and when we stop making noise, we let governments, local lawmakers, and hate groups do whatever they want to us,” Curtis said. “What is happening now, queer people have lived through before. That’s why we always have to be louder.”

Beyond Curtis’s shirts and totes, which range in price from $30 to $40, Mother Goods is also selling cans of the Gay Blood Screenprint Ink along with pens and acrylics on its Gay Blood Collection page, which includes a template letter that can be sent to the FDA.

Billie Anania is an editor, critic, and journalist in New York City whose work focuses on political economy in the cultural industries and the history of art in global liberation movements.