“FDA replaces irrational, homophobic gay blood ban with new irrational, homophobic gay blood ban”

The US Food and Drug Administration has amended its longtime ban on gay people donating blood. The FDA will now permit gay people to donate blood, provided they don’t have sex for the year before.


Gay rights, and health, advocates have long criticized the FDA ban as unnecessarily homophobic. The issue is not whether someone is gay, or bisexual, or even if they’re simply “men who sleep with men” (i.e., men who don’t identify as gay, but who still sleep with other men). The issue is whether the blood donor has any kind of unsafe sex, and more importantly, whether or not an HIV test will detect if the donor is HIV+.

fdaAdvocates say you only need a few weeks after exposure to detect HIV — you don’t need to wait a year.

The FDA ban has specifically been a ban on any man who has had sex with another men since 1977. Promiscuous heterosexuals are notably absent from the FDA’s past or proposed ban.

GMHC in NY weighs in:

Are all high-risk donors treated equally?

No. The Questionnaire does not ask whether prospective donors have engaged in specific high-risk practices, such as unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, or sex with a partner whose HIV status was unknown to the prospective donor. This leads to deferrals that focus on donors’ identity rather than high-risk behavior. For example, the one year deferral period mandated for a heterosexual donor who had sex with a partner known to be HIV-positive is shorter than the permanent deferral for a gay or bisexual male donor, regardless of his partner’s HIV status.

On its Web site, the FDA explains why it believes simply testing all blood isn’t enough to screen for HIV:

Isn’t the HIV test accurate enough to identify all HIV positive blood donors?

HIV tests currently in use are highly accurate, but still cannot detect HIV 100% of the time. It is estimated that the HIV risk from a unit of blood has been reduced to about 1 per 2 million in the USA, almost exclusively from so called “window period” donations. The “window period” exists very early after infection, where even current HIV testing methods cannot detect all infections. During this time, a person is infected with HIV, but may not have enough virus or have developed sufficient antibodies to be detected by available tests. For this reason, a person could test negative, even when they are actually HIV positive and infectious. Therefore, blood donors are not only tested but are also asked questions about behaviors that increase their risk of HIV infection.

Collection of blood from persons with an increased risk of HIV infection also presents an added risk to transfusion recipients due to the possibility that blood that has already been collected and is being stored in a blood bank may be accidentally given to a patient in error either before testing is completed or following a positive test. Such medical errors occur extremely rarely, but given that there are about 17 million Whole Blood and red blood cell donations collected each year in the USA, they can occur.

The Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest gay rights organization, is not amused:

“While this new policy is movement toward an optimal policy that reflects fundamental fairness and the best scientific research, it falls far short of an acceptable solution because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men, preventing them from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation, rather than a policy based on actual risk to the blood supply,” said David Stacy, HRC’s Government Affairs Director. “This new policy cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology. We will continue to work towards an eventual outcome that both minimizes risk to the blood supply and treats gay and bisexual men with the respect they deserve.”

The proposed rule change will now proceed through the federal regulatory channels requiring notice and allowing for public comment. Administration officials will initiate that process in 2015.

The American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, and the American Association of Blood Banks have characterized the blood ban as medically and scientifically unwarranted as far back as 2006. HRC has been actively engaged for many years in working with the Administration, Congress, and other stakeholders to end the outdated policy banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

Lambda Legal, the gay ACLU, has more:

“This is a step in the right direction, but blood donation policy should be based on current scientific knowledge and experience, not unfounded fear, generalizations and stereotypes. Merely changing the parameters of this outdated policy does not alter its underlying discriminatory nature, eliminate its negative and stigmatizing effects, nor transform it into a policy based on current scientific and medical knowledge.

“Within 45 days of exposure, currently required blood donation testing detects all known serious blood-borne pathogens, including HIV. Therefore, a deferral of more than two months–for anyone–is not necessary and does not noticeably enhance the safety of the blood supply. Furthermore, donor deferrals should be based entirely on the conduct of the potential donor and not on sexual orientation, gender identity or the perceived health status or risk factors of the donor’s sexual partners. The reason is straight-forward, and is a foundational principle of our prevention efforts: an adult person becomes HIV-positive–or acquires another blood-borne pathogen–only after engaging in activities that present a risk of transmission. To base deferrals primarily on prevalence within certain communities rather than behavior could serve to disqualify other segments of the population based on race, sex and where they reside–a very slippery slope toward more easily recognizable forms of illegal discrimination. If we are serious about a policy that is truly most protective of the blood supply, it will treat all potential donors the same and base any deferrals on the conduct of those potential donors within a scientifically justified ‘window period’ prior to donation.

“Lambda Legal also supports a fully-funded, more robust and comprehensive system for monitoring blood donations–particularly those donations that test positive for a blood-borne pathogen, like HIV or hepatitis C. Such a system–known as a ‘hemovigilance’ system–is the international standard and could inform further development of the donor questionnaire used to assess an individual’s conduct-based risk, as well as to track any new, emerging infections before they have the chance to infiltrate the blood supply. But let’s not pretend that further research is needed or that more information about the make-up of the current donor pool must be gathered before moving to an individualized risk-based assessment and much shorter deferral period. We already know the routes and relative risks of transmission for the blood-borne pathogens that recipients are legitimately concerned about, and we should move as swiftly as possible to a system that defers only individual donors who recently have engaged in activities placing them at risk–not to a system that still prevents groups of people from donating based simply on who they are.”

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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13 Responses to ““FDA replaces irrational, homophobic gay blood ban with new irrational, homophobic gay blood ban””

  1. Jennifer8290 says:

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  2. benb says:

    I’m going to Mexico on Jan 1. I needed an early refill of a prescription. My Doctor authorized it…my insurance approved it…but RITE-AID wouldn’t fill it unless I showed them “Proof of Travel”. This is a RITE AID policy and NOT LEGALLY REQUIRED to fill a prescription.

    I refused …I was infuriated that Rite Aid would use their priviledge as a pharmacy to coerce me into giving them personal information whose sole purpose is to help them cover their ass (“Document the early refill”).

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  3. hidflect says:

    Talking of gay people, isn’t it about time we had another article about Aaron Schock?

  4. 2karmanot says:

    Straight people have AIDS! WTF?

  5. rmthunter says:

    Well, it’s obvious that without a lobbyist from PhRMA standing at its shoulder, the FDA simply doesn’t know what to do.

  6. KryX says:

    The FDA has obviously determined that there is an over abundance of blood donors. There is no need for you or your friends and family to donate. Problem solved.

  7. Butch1 says:

    Exactly; all one has to do is lie about using drugs. The questionnaire is useless. If a gay person wants to donate blood than can as well. I hate to think one would have to lie to do it, but you are correct.

  8. BloggerDave says:

    The blood supply is regularly tested for infectious diseases so of course this is BS… On another topic, I’m noticing in headlines on websites, even those that are friendly to the gay community, is the phrase “the gays”… This practice needs to be stopped because it connotes a subtle slight as if the gay community is somehow “other”… They need to use “the gay community” or something else that has more dignity…

  9. Naja pallida says:

    Any history of intravenous drug use disqualifies a donor. If you actually answer the questionnaire honestly they may still turn you away if you list a history of hard drug use. Even if you’re not currently using. Probably would depend on if they judge you physically well enough to donate. Of course, if one was really intent on donating blood, all they have to do is lie. As long as you don’t look obviously ill, they’re not going to say anything else. Myself, I can’t ever donate because I lived in Europe during the vCJD (mad cow) scare… but who would ever know that if I didn’t tell them?

  10. Butch1 says:

    Their prejudices are astounding. Drug addicts can still give blood freely without any problems? Just as long as the males do not have sexual relations with other males. Homophobia. These people are so scared of us. They can deny it all they like, but . . .

  11. BeccaM says:

    Like there’s no such thing as a monogamous gay or bisexual man?

    You’re dead right, John: The issue isn’t whether someone’s had sex. It’s whether someone has had unsafe sex — which could be gay, straight, bi, or any variant thereof.

    The FDA policy is still basically homophobic.

  12. S1AMER says:

    Yeah, this is only a slight dimunition in the level of homophobia.

    The most important thing, though, is for scientists to develop a simple, inexpensive, point-of-contribution test of blood suitability for transfusions. There are lots of people now with short- or long-term bans (in addition to gay men, people who have recently traveled in some tropical areas, for example). There’s also blood that’s discarded days after contribution because of a disease the donor either didn’t know [s]he had, or didn’t realize was a problem. In all these cases, a new simple, inexpensive, point-of-contribution test is the answer … and there would be more donors, more blood available to people in need, and lower testing expenses for blood banks.

  13. nicho says:

    “So ma’am, does your husband have sex with prostitutes? What, you don’t know. Sorry, you can’t give blood until you’ve been ceilbate for a year.”

    Yeah, like people would stand for that?

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