LGBTQ organizations petition FDA to end ban on gay, bisexual blood donations
In the aftermath of the Orlando night club shooting, survivors were prevented from donating blood to their loved ones because of their sexual orientation. FDA regulations prohibit men from donating blood for a year after they have had sex with another man.
During the Reagan administration, men who had sex with men (MSM) were banned from donating blood for life, but in December 2015 the policy was amended to require gay and bisexual men to be celibate for a year before donating. For the survivors of the Orlando tragedy and the LGBTQ community at large, these changes don’t go far enough.
“At times of tragedy, giving blood is a form of showing solidarity, showing concern for the victims, and even a form of citizenship. We can’t say that we have first-class citizens and second-class citizens, we can’t say some people can give blood and other people can’t based upon their sexual orientation,” said Alan Grayson, a Florida Democratic Congressmember. “That experience illuminated for all of us in Orlando the importance from a social standpoint of ending discrimination.”
Grayson said when he and other elected officials asked individuals to donate, they had over 5,000 donors in 24 hours.
“That’s a recognition of the impulse we all feel in times of tragedy to help, and no one should be turned away in those kinds of circumstances,” he said.
In response to the tragedy in Orlando, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) partnered with the Equality Federation and the National Gay Blood Drive and 130 members of Congress in petitioning the FDA to end the ban on blood donations by gay and bisexual men. They circulated a grassroots petition with over 12,000 signatures and enlisted the support of members of congress in protesting the ban.
“The number of congressional signers went from only a handful on the first day to 130 in less than a week,” said Courtney Hagan, PCCC Senior Lobbyist.
Senators Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren are leading the effort in the Senate, and Representatives Jared Polis, Barbara Lee and Mike Quigley are organizing support in the House. They planned to present the petition to Congress last Friday, but it was adjourned two days early after the Democrat’s sit-in protest over gun control.
The petition to the FDA states “Lift the ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. Scientific evidence does not support this ban. Screen based on behavior, not sexual orientation.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2010 the estimated number of new HIV infections among MSM was 29,800. MSM accounted for 78 percent of new HIV infections among males and 63 percent of all new infections.
All blood is tested for HIV and hepatitis before it’s transfused, but gay and bisexual men are the only demographic to be specifically prohibited from donating. However, they are not the only community that has a statistically high rate of HIV. For example, a study by the CDC this year found that compared to other races, African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnosed, those living with HIV, and those ever diagnosed with AIDS . Yet there’s no discussion of banning African Americans from donating blood, because that would be a racist generalization, the same way that the current standards are homophobic generalizations.
Every year, 6.8 million people donate blood, according to the Red Cross. If the ban were to be lifted, another 4.2 million men would become eligible to donate.
A study conducted last year by Columbia Medical Review found that “due to the number of potential donors that are unjustly turned away, the existence of adequate screening protocols, and the desire for increased donations within the medical community, the current restrictions are unconscionable”.
“The FDA simply needs to base its screening off of behavior and off of science, not off of orientation,” Rep. Jared Polis, the first openly gay parent in Congress. “The gender of one’s partner has nothing to do with whether one is engaged in risky behavior or not. It’s high time for this outdated and discriminatory policy to end,”
As an alternative to the ban, the Columbia Medical Review recommends that donors be screened based on their sexual practices “such as individuals who have engaged in frequent, unprotected sex with multiple partners since their prior HIV test.” This model would treat homosexual and heterosexual donors equally by not labeling safe, protected sex as risky behavior and by focusing
on only facts relevant to the determination of risk factors in donating blood.
Donated blood is tested for the antibodies that are produced as a reaction to HIV and hepatitis, but the body doesn’t generate the antibodies until about four weeks after becoming infected and a positive result does not definitely mean that you have HIV, although it is likely . RNA testing detects the virus directly and has a smaller window of time when HIV is undetectable, but it’s not widely used because it’s more time consuming and expensive than the antibody screening test.
Grayson thinks the blood donation system needs to be upgraded to reflect the best available technology in HIV detection, not only for the sake of blood recipients but also so that HIV can be detected earlier and more accurately in donors.
“I’m going to introduce a bill that will create a grant program run out of the federal government that will give money to blood banks to do a thorough testing based upon antigen testing and RNA testing rather than simple antibody testing,” Grayson said.
Until congress reconvenes, the petition is still open and steadily gathering more signatures. To show your support and add your name to the thousands who have spoken out against the FDAs ban, visit the petition website here.
“I felt much better about my donation.”September 28, 2016
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