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New U.S. Resolution Renews Calls to End 'Gay Blood Ban'

Democratic House Representative Schiff, AOC, Lee, and others introduce legislation that would replace blanket deferral periods for queer men with individual risk assessments based on behavior.

The ban currently impacts all men who have sex with men, not only those who identify as gay.

Noting the need for policies grounded in science rather than fear and bias, a coalition of Democratic House representatives have introduced a resolution that calls for the elimination of deferral periods for queer men wanting to donate blood by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The resolution introduced by Representatives Barbara Lee, Adam Schiff, Carolyn Maloney, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others would instead use individual risk assessments to determine suitability. The resolution was introduced on June 1, marking the beginning of Pride month.

"Our nation faces a severe blood shortage, which has been exacerbated by the [global] pandemic. Now more than ever we need to remove any impediment that needlessly prevents Americans from donating blood to help save lives," Rep. Schiff said in a statement. "There is a large contingent of healthy people that are able and willing to donate blood and plasma, but antiquated regulations prevent them from doing so. This resolution calls for a repeal of discriminatory guidelines against members of the LGBTQ community, and encourages them to be replaced with science-based criteria for individual-risk assessment. It's long past time these changes were made, especially during the current global crisis."

"While shortening the deferral period for gay and bisexual men is a good first step, it is critical that FDA move toward assessing potential donors by individual risk, rather than blanket deferral," Reps. Maloney and Ocasio-Cortez said in a joint statement. In May, the organization changed the deferral period from 12 months to three. "A policy that fails to do this perpetuates stigma and falls short of ensuring that every person who can safely donate blood in the United States has the opportunity to do so."

Representatives Chris Pappas, Mike Quigley, Deb Haaland, and Katherine Clark joined the others in the introduction of the resolution which calls for policies governing blood and blood product donations to be grounded in science and which minimize deferral periods. Under these new guidelines, blood donation centers would consider individual risk factors and accept donations from "all those who can safely do so" rather than unfairly disqualifying entire groups of individuals.

The announcement was met with wide praise from medical experts and advocacy groups.

"Federal policy for donating blood should be based on science, not based on fear and bias," HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement. "As the global pandemic wears on, we must continue to push the federal government to change this policy, which is not only discriminatory but undermines efforts to support and protect our communities."

"Lambda Legal is pleased to see members of Congress pushing the FDA to further modify blood donation criteria to eliminate discrimination against gay and bisexual men," said Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal. "A shorter deferral period applied to all people engaged in certain risk behaviors, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, will create a truly nondiscriminatory policy. Lambda Legal looks forward to the adoption of an individualized risk assessment for every potential blood donor, thereby ensuring a safe and abundant blood supply."

"It's time to #bantheban Thank you to Vice Chair @RepAdamSchiff for leading this effort!" the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus tweeted.

Full text of the resolution can be read here.

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