As it currently stands, the Food and Drug Administration does not allow men to donate blood if they’ve had sexual contact with another man in the last 12 months.
These kinds of mandates, which vary from country to country around the world, are the biggest barrier for gay, bisexual, and same-gender loving men to donate blood amid the COVID-19 outbreak — something that Surgeon General Jerome Adams said was crucial this week during a press briefing, noting that “one donation can save up to three lives," reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Now, GLAAD has organized a petition, which currently has close to 4,000 signatures, calling on the FDA to allow queer men to donate blood after the American Red Cross had to cancel 2,700 blood drives in the past month.
As a result of the cancellations, there were 86,000 fewer donations, reports NBC.
These donation restrictions are blatantly homophobic and not based on real science, but rather draconian fears from the 1980s relating to gay man and HIV, when little was known about the transmission of the virus.
Currently, the American Red Cross doesn’t require donors to disclose their transgender status, however the 12-month policy is sometimes applied — incorrectly, and often carelessly — to transgender women.
The FDA had previously set a lifetime ban in 1983, but in 2015, the government agreed to change it to a 12-month deferral period — reflecting the policies of other countries like Australia and Ireland.
In November, the Red Cross urged the FDA to move the 12-month deferral period to three months, citing that "blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation. We are committed to working toward achieving this goal."
According to a 2014 report from the Williams Institute, there could be an extra 600,000 pints of blood available each year if the FDA lifted the ban. That could save many lives, especially in the backdrop of COVID-19 where, because of stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules, blood banks are seeing a severe blood donation shortage.
"The FDA needs to put science above stigma," Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and president of GLAAD, said in a statement. "Gay and bisexual men … want to give blood and should be able to contribute to help their fellow Americans."
"We really see it as a holdover of a discriminatory policy from a time long past," Mathew Lasky, communications director at GLAAD, told The Hill. "We think that it's important to push the FDA to rethink the policy around this because it's not based in current science."
Queer politicians are also speaking out.
“This blood shortage threatens lives,” Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco said in a statement. “Yet, despite this emergency need, the FDA continues to take a non-science-based approach by irrationally excluding sexually active gay and bisexual men from donating.”
“I, for one, would love to donate blood to help out in this time of need, but because I’m a gay man and have not been celibate for the past year, I’m prohibited,” Wiener continues. “By contrast, a straight person who’s had sex with multiple partners in the past month can donate. The reality is that blood banks test all blood for HIV, and modern testing techniques are overwhelmingly accurate in detecting and discarding HIV-positive blood. We’re in a national and global healthcare emergency, and it’s all hands on deck. We need the FDA to take a science-based, rational approach to blood donation — and to end this discriminatory exclusion.”