The FDA Still Says Gay Men Can’t Donate Blood. Is That Discrimination?

Despite new testing regimens and the fact that unsafe sex, not homosexuality, is the cause of infections, a decades-old rule remains in place.
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    The University of Nottingham's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Society (LGBTQ)'s demonstration against the National Blood Service's discrimination against gay and bisexual men, who are not allowed to give blood.(Photo/Matt Buck via Flickr)

    The University of Nottingham’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Society (LGBTQ)’s demonstration against the National Blood Service’s discrimination against gay and bisexual men, who are not allowed to give blood.(Photo/Matt Buck via Flickr)

    Gay men in America are seeing a nationwide shift toward acceptance of their sexual orientation, yet when it comes to donating blood, they’re still treated as second-class — and the Food and Drug Administration is now under pressure to take another look at its 30-year-old policy.

    The FDA, which dictates the rules relating to blood drives in the U.S., still places gay men on the list of those who do not qualify to give blood, a decision made in the 1980s when the country was in the midst of a fairly new epidemic not largely understood: HIV/AIDS.

    The American Medical Association has now deemed the FDA’s decision discriminatory, calling for a rollback of the policy.

    “The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” AMA Board Member Dr. William Kobler told ABC News in a statement. “This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.”

    In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Red Cross came together and recommended that the ban be overturned, calling instead for an amendment to the clause — one which would still target gay men but allow those who have abstained from unsafe sex to give blood.

    According to the Associated Press, the Department of Health and Human Services is carrying out a study to satisfy the requirements of the FDA, which has claimed the ban will not be lifted until scientific evidence proves it would not put the greater public at risk.

    Yet those who are opposed to the ban can’t understand why another study is needed. According to the FDA, only 1 in 2 million blood transfusions leads to HIV infections. However, according to the FDA, that’s one too many.

    “FDA’s deferral policy is based on the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation,” it states on the FDA website.

    The argument on behalf of the FDA rests in statistics, yet it doesn’t explain the recent efforts by the FDA to resist attempts to overturn the ban. Sixty-one percent of new HIV cases are reported within the gay male community, according to the FDA.

    However, as noted by writer Piper Hoffman, the disease is not inherently associated with male sex. Instead, it’s associated with unsafe sex, which is the root of the problem.

    When the ban was implemented, it also took into account the lack of testing necessary to ensure infected blood was not passed down to recipients. Now, all donated blood is tested to ensure it’s safe for blood transfusions.

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      • MK Hernández

        Can you please sign and forward my petition to allow gay men the right to donate blood at http://www.change.org/petitions/u-s-food-and-drug-administration-allow-gay-men-to-donate-blood

        To get more information please like the page when you get a chance: http://www.facebook.com/weallrequal

      • James P Robinson

         Dear Mint Press,

        Eighty-two lawmakers in the House and Senate signed on to the letter, including Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Enzi was the only Republican to sign the letter.

        They said Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius should re-evaluate blood donation criteria that ban gay men from donating blood for life.

        If I can make this a little more personal I would like to share with you my personal thoughts that I sent to the Chancellor of The City University of New York. I will include this below

        We must put an to end this Reagan Era hateful and homophobic Policy, either through executive order or legislation this policy must end for the reasons cited below.

        To make this issue a little more personal I have included a memorandum that I sent to the Chancellor of The City University of New York that has fallen on deaf ears.

        A Time For Change (Written by The City University of New York, LGBT Task Force)

        As you may be aware the CUNY LGBT Task Force has spearheaded the movement, within the university, to call upon administration for the just and proper enforcement of our civil rights. Specifically, we believe that the university has a moral and legal obligation to uphold its own non-discrimination policy as well as Federal Civil Rights Laws, such as Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendment.

        The lifetime ban against blood donation by gay and bisexual men; this blanket exclusion of gay blood donors reinforces negative stereotypes and perpetuates harmful stigmas against the LGBTQQIA community as a whole. Whereas a heterosexual blood donor, who has had sex with a HIV infected prostitute would only be deferred from giving blood for one year.

        In the own words of the F.D.A stated in recent congressional hearings, “The Committee recognized that the current policy is inadequate and the Department of Health and Human Services must immediately commit its resources to research that will allow our nation to adopt a fair and safe blood donation policy…” (FDA Committee on Blood Safety and availability) 2010

        This is ban is based entirely on gender, and sexual identity and not high risk behavior.  We believe this to be an inappropriate use of university resources and facilities. We further contend that The City University, by actively advancing these discriminatory blood drives, has and will continue to create:

        1. A hostile work environment for gay and bisexual men and male identified trans individuals
        2. A dangerous and hostile environment for young gay students; for, in October of last year alone, SIX Gay youths had committed suicide. It is this type of institutionalized homophobia that allows the gay youth to believe that they are disposable and less than full citizens on campus and society as a whole.
        3. Recognizing the rash of LGBTQ youth suicides, 200%-400% greater than their peers. One leading indicator is, “not feeling like a valuable member of society”. Discriminatory blood drives on campus advance this institutional homophobia and reinforce the stigma that gay people have no worth, and cannot, regardless of health status, ever aspire to give blood and save a life. The policy reinforces on campus the hurtful myth that all gay people are HIV+, and this creates a dangerous paradigm for the LGBT community
        4. A social expectation is created by actively conducting and promoting blood drives. Negative perceived social outcomes assert themselves if someone does not donate blood during a student or faculty blood drive. A member of the college community who does not donate and therefore does not wear the button “I’m a hero and saved a life” does suffer from a stigma such as; “That person is selfish”, “That person must have a disease” and/or “That is a gay person”. All of these examples have proven historically to have negative consequences on a student or employee. Worse yet, someone who is unaware of the rule could be forced “out” as a result of the very question, suffer the negative social and employment consequences Described, and is also at elevated risk of a hate crime.

        The Task-Force has had some success with freezing Blood Drives on campuses and thus protecting the larger community’s from what is described above. Many caring faculty, students and members of administration have helped in this process. We are very thankful for the outpouring of support that has come from these diverse and different sectors of the university and its communities. This is juxtaposed, with openly gay administrators being visibly hostile; and doing everything possible to besmirch the credibility of the Task-Force and its members.

        The City University has a rich and long history of supporting social change. Clearly, this Federal Reagan era policy is not going to change unless thoughtful caring people use available resources to facilitate this change. The Task-Force recognizes that freezing blood drives on CUNY campuses is just half of this equation, and as socially responsible members of the CUNY community, we want to help facilitate this change.

        The University has been unresponsive to our request, thus we are in the process of filing litigation and letting the courts decide this issue.

        If there any attorneys out there willing to help, please contact me.

        James P. Robinson

        Chairperson, NYC LGBT Task Force
        Chairperson, CUNY LGBT Task Force
        Special Adviser, Straight and Gay Alliance, (City College of New York) 

        Cell          (917) 578-3384
        NYC Task Force Hotline (212) 966-5687

        The CUNY Wide LGBT Task Force is the only inter CUNY organization which consists of LGBTQetc leaders as representatives from all 24 respective City University of New York Campuses. We exist to ensure that every CUNY campus has a safe space for LGBTQetc students and employees, protecting and enforcing LGBTQetc rights for CUNY students and employees, making recommendations to the University Student Senate and Board of Trustees, Collaborating with LGBTQetc organizations at individual CUNY campuses on projects, campaigns, and events that increase awareness about LGBTQetc issues