FDA Failed Gay Americans With Changes to Blood Donation Regulations BY SARAH GOMPPER
The queer community has made incredible strides in the past few years. As the New Year approaches, LGBT Americans, single and legally married, are looking back on 2015 with #Pride. This week, exactly five years since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was overturned, the FDA announced the end of yet another discriminatory federal policy. Well, sorta…
the FDA is changing its recommendation that men who have sex with men (MSM) be indefinitely deferred – a policy that has been in place for approximately 30 years – to 12 months since the last sexual contact with another man. These updated recommendations better align the deferral period for MSM with the deferral period for other men and women at increased risk for HIV infection – such as those who had a recent blood transfusion or those who have been accidentally exposed to the blood of another individual.
In other words, the indefinite ban is out, but men who have had sex with another man in the past year continue to be ineligible to donate blood.
Yes, an HIV negative man in a monogamous relationship with another man — legally married, even — cannot give blood; however, an untested man with ever-changing opposite-sex partners is accepted without question.
The FDA references other factors that increase risk of HIV; however, the only other precluding factors that American Red Cross lists are 1) the use of “needles to take drugs, steroids, or anything not prescribed by your doctor,” 2) taking “money, drugs or other payment for sex since 1977,” 3) having sexual contact with a person in the previous group in the past year, and 4) receiving certain treatment for bleeding disorders. Also according to American Red Cross, all donated blood is screened for “antibodies to both HIV-1 and HIV-2, the causative agents of AIDS”
By barring any man who has had sex with another man in the past year from donation, the FDA sends a message that the need for blood isn’t all that great. Afterall, if they are willing to exclude millions of potential donors, they must not really need my blood either, right? American Red Cross asserts otherwise: “the need is constant and your contribution is important for a healthy and reliable blood supply.” I could save multiple lives with each donation.
So, the persistent herd of volunteers asking for blood and the good doctors on Grey’s Anatomy haven’t been lying. Why, then, are we precluding men who have sex with men from saving lives? Why are we putting people at risk who desperately need blood?
I will not withhold my healthy lady-blood from people who need it like some idealistic college student on a well-groomed high horse. However, this change in federal regulation is hardly an improvement, and libertarians (or anyone who cares about equality) should not be satisfied. The FDA continues to discriminate based on correlation, treating individuals merely as members of a stereotyped class, while stigmatizing and vilifying gay and bisexual men.