drip drop

An Actual Reasonable Alternative to Banning All Gay Men’s Blood

The Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the NYC-based AIDS research and support group, this week released “Drive For Change,” a study on how the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on blood donations from gay men — one which the American Red Cross hopes to reform — isn’t just discriminatory, but harmful to the health of Americans. But what alternatives are there? Good ones, actually.

The ban prohibits donations from any man who has had sex with another man, even once, since 1977. The policy is based on assumed risk, not the fact that all blood is screened for HIV and other blood-based diseases before it is used, and not the fact that the spread of HIV is increasingly a “heterosexual problem” (to put it bluntly, and stupidly). There are some reforms on the table: Reduce the “sex window” from “anytime since 1977” to five years, or one year, or six months.

But as GMHC’s report (full PDF here; summary here) and Captain Obvious notes, those options do little to formidably increase the blood donor supply and still discriminate against gay men. Or at least gay men who are not celibate. “Neither the current policy nor any of the proposed temporary deferral
policies adequately distinguish between low-risk and high-risk sexual practices by MSM donors or others,” the report concludes. “Any policy in which a male donor is deferred because he answers that he has “had sex” with another man during a certain time period, whether since 1977, in the last five years, in the last one year, or otherwise, fails to address the fact that both MSM and non-MSM donors engage in low-risk sexual behavior (e.g., protected sex, monogamous sex with an HIV-negative partner, oral sex) and high-risk sexual behavior (e.g., unprotected anal sex, sex with multiple partners, sex with new partners, sex with HIV-positive partners or partners of unknown HIV status).”

Fine. So what does GMHC recommend? Aside from obvious things like “expanding research,” there’s this: “Screen all donors for high-risk behavior” by modifying the donor questionnaire. And “Only defer prospective donors determined to be at high-risk. The permanent deferral for men who have had sex with men since 1977 should be replaced with a policy that defers high-risk MSMs, as defined by recent sexual history, for a period of time carefully tailored to known window periods, while permitting low-risk MSM donors to donate blood. An MSM donor’s risk should not be measured solely in terms of the date of the donor’s sexual encounters, but also in terms of whether the donor engaged in low-risk sexual practices like condom usage or monogamy. The highest-risk members of the MSM population, such as those who fall into several risk categories (e.g., IV drug users, commercial sex workers) or who report unprotected sex with partner(s) with HIV or with unknown HIV status, may justifiably be subject to lengthy or permanent deferrals.”

Indeed. If a donor’s questionnaire reveals a man has had eighty partners in the past year and uses condoms “sometimes,” then sure, defer the guy. Even if he is heterosexual! But for men who always use condoms and are in monogamous relationships, or have just a handful of sexual partners, and are not drug users, and are not prostitutes, then hey, strap them to a gurney and suck the cells out of their arm this minute.

EARLIER: Gay Men Cannot Donate Blood. What a Stupid Policy

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  • JonJon

    Isn’t all blood tested before it is used anyway? I don’t understand the need for any kind of a ban when they can run a quick test and determine if the blood is okay or not.

  • Stephan


    there’s still a window (usually 3 months) where the virus can’t be detected

  • dontblamemeivotedforhillary

    Unfortunately, tainted blood still creeps into the system where hospitals are under-staffed and YES IT SHOULD BE TESTED. Their ineptitude is in no way a reflection on Gay men, whether HIV positive or otherwise. To accept blood from Gay men who had sex with other men only before 1977 seems to be a transference of discrimination. It’s really hard as a Gay man, that during a National Crisis like 9/11, you can be a Firefighter, Police Officer or other First Responder but your blood is second class because of your sexual orientation and AIDSphobia created by an industry that failed to respond to the Pandemic and still acts irresponsible where profit-driven funds are prioritized over patient care. We didn’t start the fire that the gasoline can’t put out, especially now that it is no longer a Gay-specific disease. A Cure for AIDS/HIV should be the world’s priority as a security issue as well as an issue of Human Rights: Genocide.

  • Bill

    I would never want to donate blood to a heterosexual anyhow.

    I have nothing against them, I just don’t agree with the lifestyle.

  • terrwill

    @Bill: I always donate, hoping that Fred Phelps may get some of my very Gay blood…
    : p

  • DR

    This pisses me off.

    A couple of years ago I went to donate blood for a police officer who was injured in a motorcycle accident. He was a good guy, and having coworkers who are close with police and the military, I wanted to do the right thing. then that cow in the hospital told me “no”. We argued and safe to say I complained to anyone who would listen, including the coworkers who came with me and the police I knew in the waiting room. There wasn’t much they could do besides tell me they appreciated the thought since it wasn’t fair to not get this guy the blood he needed.

    I will say I wouldn’t object to a six-month window as a stop-gap measure, it’s a bit more tolerable to a single guy like me but totally unfair to monogamously coupled men, but ultimately this need to go away.

  • Jigae

    @2: With the tests they use now, the window is actually 11 days. I am (oddly) in a class about blood transfusions as we speak.

  • Homer

    “Only defer prospective donors, OF BOTH SEX, determined to be at high-risk.”

  • Acem

    I would just lie. If someone is hinging between life and death, and needed my blood type for survival, why should they be penalized because of an unfair system that they didn’t create?

  • RS

    @Jigae: Wow, really, only 11 days? That’s amazing. If they can develop an iron-clad, foolproof way of detecting the virus within a two week (or even four week) window, I would gladly become a regular donor.

  • Keith Kimmel

    I have been selling plasma for a while now. I just lie about it. Sometimes, the ends do justify the means.

  • Meowzer

    This has been one of my biggest issues for years.
    I’ve gone head to head with my employer and blood bank more than once. my company consistently holds blood drives, and offers prizes and rewards, to those who participate. Since I can’t donate (I’m openly gay at work), I have protested that it amounts to discrimination.

    Married straights are assumed “clean” because they’re in a monogamous relationship. I have been with the same partner for 24 years and am clean as well. Have the tests to back it up. No one will take my blood.

    So now what I do, when the blood center is begging for blood around the holidays or during shortages, and I have the universal blood type, is I call and ask to schedule an appointment. I get the registration clerk all happy and thankful, and then ask “oh, by the way, does it matter I’m gay?” I’ve had the phone slammed down on me more times than I can count.

    And for my employer… i’ve started signing up for the blood drives and registering for the prizes. i’ve threatened that if I’m turned away because I’m gay, I’ll sue. I consider it discrimination because they support the blood bank. I figure if the blood bank wants blood bad enough, they’d have fought to have this changed years ago. They support discrimination.

    I also have in my living will, and with the knowledge of my partner, that if I’m ever in an accident, and require blood, i don’t want any. if they don’t want mine, i don’t want theirs.

    Now, i’ll step down from the soap box.

  • dontblamemeivotedforhillary

    @No. 4 · Bill

    I would never want to donate blood to a heterosexual anyhow.

    I have nothing against them, I just don’t agree with the lifestyle.

    RESPONSE: You are freakin’ funny, freakin’ finelli!

  • DonatingVirgin

    The UK Blood service isn’t as responsive to this – there have been numerous tries to make the ban into a temporary one here and so far none of it has worked. I haven’t donated in a while because work getting in the way but I still do but I know the day I finally have sex I am going to cut up my donation card.

  • roflmfao

    Did you know if you have had acupuncture you can not ever give blood?? Yeah, let that sink in for while. Acupuncture. The needles are sterile and are used exactly one time. They unwrap them from the manufacturers packaging, use them on you, pull them and then drop them in the used needle trash box. Now how should that prevent you from donating blood? Why do I bring this up? Because if they are afraid of acupuncture, it puts into prospective now about their fear of AIDS.

  • Free tests

    @Jigae: That is probably the more expensive test. The real cheap tests are still 3 months and not too accurate.

  • Tommy

    Suppose you’re gay and you don’t want to donate blood? I’m deathly afraid of needles and the sight of blood. So the fact I am gay always gave me a fantastic excuse to avoid donating without looking like a selfish wimp. What ever will I do if the rule is changed?
    Just joking,everyone.

  • Cam

    It amazes me that they will take the blood of people living on the street drinking who knows what because they are so desperate for blood, but not the blood of gays. nice.

  • Bradley

    How do they know if you’re gay and have had sex?

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