It’s part of a new campaign with the American Red Cross, which encourages fans to donate blood in exchange for a limited edition Iron Throne T-shirt and a chance to attend the show’s much anticipated season 8 world premiere.
But there’s a catch. Per Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, gay and bisexual men can’t donate blood — although they can still enter the contest. The FDA’s existing rules require gay and bisexual men to abstain from sexual activity for a full year before donating blood. Women who have had sex with bisexual men within a year are also banned from donating. The agency enacted its strict eligibility guidelines in an effort to reduce the risk of transferring HIV via blood transfusion — restrictions date back to the AIDS crisis in 1983 — and it was only in 2015 that the FDA lifted its lifetime ban on accepting blood donations from gay men.
HBO is calling this “the largest blood donation promotional effort by an entertainment company in American Red Cross history,” but it now turns out that the network created a promotion that gay men are effectively banned from participating in.
HBO provided the following statement to Refinery29 regarding the backlash: "The “Bleed for the Throne” campaign is and has always been open to everyone. Knowing that FDA regulations may prohibit blood donation by some, we have created multiple ways for fans to interact with the campaign, including entry to the activation at SXSW and the season 8 premiere sweepstakes. While the SXSW activation filled up quickly, a standby line was available while the activation was open. Those unable to donate blood in national blood drives can still enter the sweepstakes by contacting the Red Cross Donor Support Center with a request to be entered, along with their name, mailing address and a valid email. Inclusivity is a key HBO value, and we have long been supporters of the LGBTQ+ community."
Understandably, some fans were not pleased to be left out of the experience.
HBO told The Daily Beast that the campaign is meant to help with the Red Cross’ worldwide blood shortage, and it is simply following national regulations. The network also said that ineligible blood donors can still enter the sweepstakes by contacting the Red Cross Donor Support Center, although that information was not included in the campaign’s initial marketing materials and social media posts.
The Bleed for the Throne campaign continues through March 12, with drives held in 43 states and nine colleges and universities in the U.S.
Season 8 of Game Of Thrones premieres on HBO Sunday, April 14.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.