GLAAD and Senators Call to End Ban on Blood Donations from Gay and Bi Men

Update April 2, 9:15 a.m. PST:

The FDA announced it will reduce the deferral period for men who have sex with men from donating blood and plasma from 12 months to three months.

The revised recommendations were posted on the FDA site this morning. An email from the FDA today also stated: 

“Based on our evaluation of the totality of the scientific evidence available, we are revising the 2015 recommendations for reducing the risk of HIV transmission by blood products including: For male donors who would have been deferred for having sex with another man; the agency is changing the recommended deferral period from 12 months to 3 months.”

This change will also apply to female donors who would have been deferred for having sex with a man who had sex with another man. 

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, blood donations have become increasingly necessary to help those diagnosed with the disease.

As social distancing has led to a reduction in donations, blood centers like the American Red Cross—and the government directly—have called for healthy people to donate blood and plasma during this crucial time in an effort to stave off a shortage in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic

However, not all healthy people can donate: The FDA has stated that—despite the need—gay and bisexual men are still banned from donating blood and blood plasma (the yellow fluid in which blood cells are suspended).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces that men who have sex with men cannot donate blood unless they have abstained from sex for 12 months. (GLAAD)

In response, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has published a petition calling for a lift of this ban, which has already garnered nearly 12,000 signatures.

“As the U.S. Surgeon General expresses clear urgency for Americans to donate blood, the FDA is choosing to uphold a laughable and discriminatory policy that hinders so many healthy Americans from doing so,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.

In the same vein, U.S. Senators—including Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders—released a letter to the FDA that addresses and calls for change to this discriminatory policy.

The letter reads:

“We must take every possible step to secure our nation’s blood supply in this critical time, and in order to do so, we need to shift away from antiquated and stigmatizing donation policies to ones that are scientifically sound, based on individual risk, and inclusive of all potential healthy blood donors.

“In light of this shortage, we urge you to swiftly update blood donor deferral policies in favor of ones that are grounded in science, are based on individual risk factors, do not unfairly single out one group of individuals, and allow all healthy Americans to donate.”

Aside from prominent politicians, celebrities like RuPaul’s Drag Race judge Michelle Visage have also spoken out about the need to end this policy.

Currently, the FDA does not allow men who have had sex with men—or women who have had sex with men who have sex with men—in the past 12 months to donate blood. The stigma behind that marginalized group is that they may transfer HIV to other patients by giving blood.

Keenan Crow with OneIowa, a nonprofit that helps the Iowa LGBTQ community, said this is not backed up by science.

“It’s much more likely that you’ll be struck by lightning than receive HIV in a blood transfusion due to all these testing advancements,” Crow said.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) and the American Red Cross have also spoken out about this limitation, saying that sexual orientation should not determine blood donation eligibility.

The ban “is not based in science but appears to be modeled after other countries’ choices and fears,” wrote the APHA.

According to a 2014 study by the Williams Institute, an additional 360,000 men would likely donate, which could save millions of lives, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The FDA needs to put science above stigma,” Ellis said. “Holding on to an antiquated, discriminatory ban during these uncertain times is absurd.”

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving.

During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media.

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Fiona is a journalism student at the University of Southern California. When not in the office nor in class, she is often found photographing her friends, attending local concerts and eating sourdough toast.