It Is Ridiculous That Many Gay and Bisexual Men Cannot Donate Blood

In the aftermath of the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, in which 49 people were murdered, almost all of them members of the LGBT community, a vestige of the era of AIDS paranoia and hysteria was resurrected. Many gay and bisexual men were summarily banned from giving blood, despite the desperate need for donations to help the 53 hospitalized survivors. FDA policy prohibits men who have had sex with men in the last year from donating blood. A community already grieving and feeling under attack now found itself unable to participate in the most immediate way of helping its members heal.

In 2013, the American Medical Association issued a statement condemning the FDA’s previous policy, amended only last year, which placed a lifetime ban on blood donations from men who had ever engaged in sex with other men. Calling the prohibition “discriminatory and not based on sound science,” the organization forcefully called for “a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.” Two years later, the FDA modified its stance to its current policy, which still keeps men who’ve had sexual contact with men in the last 12 months from being blood donors.

This is outdated thinking, steeped in homophobia and baseless fear; a relic of the early 1980s, when reliable testing for AIDS took an extensive period of time. As Mother Jones notes, HIV/AIDS is now detectable in blood as little as nine days after exposure. What’s more, all blood is screened after donation, regardless of who gave it. That heterosexual blood donors, regardless of the number of partners they have had and whether or not they have practiced safe sex, face no donation ban highlights the glaring and underlying unfairness of the FDA’s position.

"The updated policy is still discriminatory and not rooted in the reality of HIV testing today…[T]the deferral period should be no longer than 30 days," Dan Bruner, the senior director of policy at Whitman-Walker wrote in a statement after the FDA announced its updated current policy.

Speaking with Mother Jones, Bruner, who is gay, added, “I'm married and have been in a monogamous relationship for 33 years. If the Red Cross had a blood drive and I wanted to give, I could hold off on sex for a month. I could understand that. But the one-year ban is illusory progress. It says, 'You can't donate if you have a sex life.'"

Kamala Harris, attorney general of California and a candidate for U.S. Senate, called the policy an “outrage” in an email to supporters calling for the ban to be lifted. “Donating blood is a basic act of human mercy, and we should be encouraging all Americans to step up and help their communities. Removing this ban will go a long way in doing that — and help to combat the stigma and discrimination that has wrongly singled out gay and bisexual men for far too long...It’s time to end this shameful practice now.”

In the days following the Orlando massacre, Blake Lynch, a gay man and registered nurse from Orlando, penned an opinion piece for the New York Times. He noted that some blood centers in the country haven’t even kept pace with the FDA’s old guidelines, and continue to adhere to a lifelong ban on blood from men who have sex with men. He sees the FDA’s policy regarding blood donations from gay and bisexual men as yet another area where the LGBT community must battle for change.

“In recent years, LGBT Americans have made huge strides in our efforts to live our lives in the open,” Lynch wrote. “Safe spaces like Pulse are still important institutions that allow young gay men growing up in Orlando to feel comfortable with who we are. The overwhelming sympathy and support we have received from the public and political leaders show how much progress we have made. But the actions of one person can also make a difference. We must choose to use this moment as a catalyst to continue our fight for equality.”

Kamala Harris urges those who oppose the discriminatory policy to sign a petition demanding the FDA change its guidelines.

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