Mother’s Gay Employees Turned Their Blood Into Ink for a Shirt Demanding Donor Equality

'Blood Is Blood' seeks to end FDA ban on sexually active men

The 'Blood Is Blood' shirts will be sold exclusively at The Phluid Project as a fundraiser for Callen-Lorde. Mother
Headshot of David Griner

Here’s a shirt you likely weren’t expecting to see as an agency’s celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month.

Mother’s New York office has created a T-shirt designed with ink that includes the blood of its gay male employees from NYC and its sister office in London.

The copy on the front of the shirt, “This Shirt Is Printed With the Blood of Gay Men,” is arresting, to say the least. On the back, longer copy explains the policy change the shirt is intended to help bring about.

“The blood of men who have had sex with men is deemed ‘too risky’ to donate, not by science, but by the FDA, backed by a government unwilling to repeal outdated thinking,” the shirt says. “Sexuality is not a risk-factor. Stigma is the only real risk.”

Photo by DiChen Chen​, via Mother in New York
Photo: DiChen Chen​, via Mother in New York

In addition to Pride Month, the shirt’s debut is being timed to coincide with World Blood Donor Day on Thursday.

“This was a personal issue for us inside the building. Gay blood donors, our employees included, are being turned away by the FDA as we speak, and it’s baffling to me,” said Corinna Falusi​, CCO and partner at Mother in New York. “So we wanted to flip the problem on its head and repurpose rejected blood into a initiative that can raise awareness for LGBTQ health. The idea is something as simple as a white T-shirt with red text, and it creates a visceral, human reaction when you read it, but that’s what we’re going for. You read it, and it hits you.”

"It creates a visceral, human reaction when you read it, but that’s what we’re going for. You read it, and it hits you.”
Corinna Falusi​, CCO, Mother in New York

The shirts will only be sold at gender-neutral retailer The Phluid Project, with proceeds going to Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, a longtime LGBTQ service provider. Sales will begin Thursday.

Dr. Peter Meacher​, chief medical officer at Callen-Lorde, says the shirt helps tackle an irrational restriction against gay men that is denying life-saving blood donations to thousands.

“All blood is screened, and everyone can be at risk for HIV,” Meacher says. “The more we pathologize HIV by attaching it to certain communities, we are perpetuating stereotypes that ultimately harm us all. Everyone should be thinking about HIV prevention and screening methods should reflect that by basing criteria on behaviors, not orientation or identity. Banning a specific group from performing a civic duty is stigmatizing and when based on shoddy science, is clearly discriminatory.”

The ink for the shirt was created by British artist Stuart Semple​, known for creating provocative colors.

Artist Stuart Semple​, who created the blood ink
Courtesy of Mother in New York

“When the blood arrived in the studio, it suddenly became very real. It wasn’t gay blood, it was just blood, and the ink formula would have been the same whatever the sexuality of its donor,” Semple​ says. “But I couldn’t help tuning into the sorrow that gay men must feel from being excluded from giving blood. It’s something that others take totally for granted. It’s bizarre that in this day and age that a glaring prejudice like this still exists.”

Semple used the blood donations from Mother employees to create a custom screen-printing ink, which was then used in the minimalist shirt design. The project was one with a great deal of personal resonance for the employees who provided their own blood for the ink.

“Our ability to freely express our sexuality and humanity is a basic human right that we believe everyone should have,” says Nathan Manou​, strategist at Mother in New York. “What is a more powerful expression than the ability to help our fellow humans and donate blood? This should be something everyone can do, no matter the gender you choose to sleep with.”

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."