On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA made the decision to formally lift a ban preventing gay men from donating blood. The ban had been in place for over 30 years and originally initiated as a means to prevent the transmission of the HIV virus.
The discriminatory ban was instituted in 1983 during the early AIDS crisis and even though it has now essentially been lifted there remains certain stipulations that are less than satisfactory to LGBT advocates. Gay men or men who have sex with men can now donate blood, but only after it has been a 12-month period since last they had sex with another male. The ban originally incorporated not just males who identified as gay, but also any man who has ever, in his lifetime, had sex with someone of the same sex.
The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to reverse their policy only came after allegedly examining the latest science and finding that it is not necessary to do an indefinite ban against gay men in order to prevent the transmission of the AIDS causing virus HIV. A statement from Dr. Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA’s biologics division, claims that waiting the 12-month period is also satisfactory.
“Ultimately, the 12-month deferral window is supported by the best available scientific evidence, at this point in time, relevant to the U.S. population.”
It took over a year of discussions, expert testimonies, and a letter from 80 Democratic Congress members demanding the repeal of the blood donation ban against gay men before the FDA came up with the option of discarding the “never” part of the ban. The move puts the United States alongside other countries like Australia, the UK and New Zealand who also have a 12-month deferment period.
Reuters’ covering of the news mentioned that gay rights advocates insist that the updated policy could use some more changes as it is still very discriminatory. Jared Polis, Democratic congressman and co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus which consists of openly gay members of congress issued his own statement regarding the “lifting” of the ban.
“It is ridiculous and counter to the public health that a married gay man in a monogamous relationship can’t give blood, but a promiscuous straight man who has had hundreds of opposite sex partners in the last year can.”
The FDA maintained in their statement that the new policy is scientifically sound and will ensure that the spread of HIV is not continued through blood donations. They pointed to the success of Australia’s change from a system of indefinite ban on blood donations by gay men to the same deferral program and state that studies were carried out on the over 8 million units of blood donated using a national blood surveillance system. The studies showed no change to risk factors for the 12-month period.
According to the New York Times, GMHC, an advocacy group formerly known as Gay Men’s Health Crisis, has only harsh criticism for the new policy stating that it “ignores the modern science of H.I.V.-testing technology while perpetuating the stereotype that all gay and bisexual men are inherently dangerous.”
The ban was first instituted when there was no way to test for the HIV virus in blood donations and subsequently a ban that still prohibits a man from donating simply because of who he is having sex with is still very discriminatory. Modern technology can determine the presence of HIV in blood donations in as little as nine days.
The FDA’s current guidelines also stipulate that a female who has had sex with a man who has in turn had sex with another man will also have to wait months to be able to donate blood.
The best bet for gay men who want to donate blood is for them to be celibate.
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