I am a law student of almost 30 years of age, civically engaged, community oriented and almost perfect in health. I walk at least 3 miles a day, maintain a healthy diet and even floss after each meal. While it hurts me read in Monday’s Press Herald that our nation is suffering from a severe shortage of blood products, I can only say: “Sorry, I wish I could help”.
How could someone with these attributes – a healthy person who claims to care about their community and country – not take responsibility and donate blood when it is so desperately needed?
The answer is simple: I am not allowed to donate blood in America because I am gay.
Under current Food and Drug Administration policy, gays are categorically prohibited from donating blood if they have sex with another man, even once in the past three months. It doesn’t matter if that person is our 10 year old monogamous partner, if we use protection every time, or if we are fully aware of our partner’s sexual history. It doesn’t matter if we take a highly effective HIV preventive medicine every day, as I and so many other gays do. It doesn’t matter if we test for sexually transmitted infections every three months, a requirement that we must meet to continue accessing the preventive medicine.
On the other hand, if a man has had unprotected sex with dozens of women during the previous three months and has never visited a doctor’s office to do sexual health tests in his life, he can still donate blood at any time. The same is true for women who have sex with men, women or both.
When donors donate blood, according to the American Red Cross, each blood unit is tested for any possible presence of HIV, hepatitis, syphilis and other blood-borne diseases. Why does the FDA ban gay blood donors as a class, while others who engage in significantly higher risk activities are still allowed to donate blood? I struggle to find a scientific reason.
In direct response to a COVID-19-related drop in blood donations in April 2020, the FDA has reduced eligibility requirements for potential gay blood donors, saying gays can donate blood as long as they commit to just three months of blood donation. abstinence in advance.
It is true that this current three-month abstinence policy is an improvement over the FDA’s previous lifetime ban on gay blood donors (the policy from 1977 to 2015) or its most recent policy requiring abstinence from one year before donating (the policy from 2015 to 2020). But requiring three months of abstinence for gay men – and only gay men – is still an unnecessary and discriminatory ban based solely on sexual orientation.
If you sting us, don’t we bleed?
Current FDA policy not only discriminates against gay men, but also prevents any number of healthy and willing blood donors from offering to help meet the nation’s dire needs.
So, what is the obstacle to definitively end this discriminatory process? In December, the FDA announced a pilot study of at least one year to assess the possibility of using an individual risk assessment for each potential donor in place of the current approach based on sexual orientation. The Red Cross supports this effort, stating that eligibility for blood donors must not be determined by methods based on sexual orientation.
Based on the April 2020 policy change, the FDA is well aware that making gay men eligible to donate blood can help resolve the country’s blood shortage. Do we really need a multi-year study to support an obvious, necessary and science-based policy change, especially in light of the continuing pandemic and blood shortages?
Once this discriminatory policy is over, I will sign up for a local blood donation to do my part. I am sure that other members of the gay community too.