Graphic by Zoë Collins (She/Her)
In January of 2022, the American Red Cross declared that the United States was in the midst of its worst blood shortage in decades. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with more positive cases every day, the need for blood donations has been dire. Nonetheless, thousands of blood donors who identify as men who have sex with men (MSM) are turned away, an act that hundreds of medical professionals are claiming is blatant discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
This ban was created by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1983 during the HIV/AIDS crisis. The original ban was created during a time when we had very little knowledge of how HIV/AIDS works and spreads and when there was little to no technology available to test blood samples for HIV. In 2015, the ban was modified, stating that MSM could donate blood only if they had abstained from having sex with men for at least 12 months. In April of 2020, as the FDA was grappling with falling levels of blood donations during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the restriction was again loosened. This modification is today’s current policy, stating that MSM may only donate blood if they have abstained from having sex with men for three months.
It is incredibly important that blood supply quality remains consistent, but these bans on blood donations are very obviously based on discrimination rather than science and safe sex practices. As outlined by the Human Rights Campaign, a man who has oral sex with a man is prohibited from donating blood for three months, but a woman who may have an unlimited amount of sexual partners without knowing their personal histories remains in the donor pool. In addition, a man who is in a long-term, monogamous relationship with a man still may not donate blood regardless of their personal histories.
Hundreds of medical professionals have spoken out about the blatant discrimination that these regulations represent, and petitions against this legislation have earned over 20,000 signatures. Even the White House has addressed this policy, stating, “The President is committed to ensuring that this policy is based on science, not fiction or stigma. While there are no new decisions to announce at the moment, the FDA is currently supporting the [Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility (ADVANCE)] study, a scientific study to develop relevant scientific evidence and inform any potential policy changes.” This ADVANCE study has been under review for years now with no end in sight, but many LGBTQ+ advocates hope that its results will allow for gay and bisexual men to join the applicant donor pool in future years with no abstinence period. The hope is that the science will speak for itself, but in the meantime, we must ask ourselves if America’s values of discrimination are more important than the millions of lives that could be saved through blood donations if the ban is lifted.
Needless to say, donating blood is a powerful way to contribute to public health. That’s why LGBTQ+ people want the right to donate!
If you’re a gay or bisexual man, consider participating in the ADVANCE study here.
If you’re not a gay or bisexual man, consider donating blood here.
Read more on LGBTQ+ Donor Eligibility here.
If you’re interested in ways to get involved in public health on campus, check out the American Red Cross at UCLA.