As the COVID-19 crisis rages on and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams begs citizens to donate blood to alleviate a growing need, LGBTQ activists have once again called on the FDA to lift a years-old ban on gay men from donating.
In the midst of the calls for more blood donors, GLAAD spokesperson Sarah Kate Ellis took the community’s frustration to Twitter, saying “The antiquated ban that still prevents gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men from donating blood must be immediately lifted by the @US_FDA. Currently, all men who have had sex with men in the past 12 months can not donate blood. Leading medical experts have highlighted for years that the ban is ineffective and doesn’t rely on science.”
— Sarah Kate Ellis (@sarahkateellis) March 19, 2020
Ellis’ words echo those of the American Red Cross late last year, when the organization also called on the FDA to lift the ban. “We also strongly support the expanded use of new technologies to work toward elimination of donor eligibility questions that would no longer be necessary.”
California Senator Scott Weiner, an openly gay man, has also criticized the blood ban. “As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules, our blood banks are experiencing a severe blood shortage and desperately need blood donations,” Wiener wrote in a statement. “This blood shortage threatens lives. Yet, despite this emergency need, the FDA continues to take a non-science-based approach by irrationally excluding sexually active gay and bisexual men from donating…The reality is that blood banks test all blood for HIV, and modern testing techniques are overwhelmingly accurate in detecting and discarding HIV-positive blood.”
The so-called gay blood ban is a holdover from the height of the AIDS crisis when HIV testing was still in its infancy. Several notable early AIDS patients, like Ryan White, contracted the disease from blood transfusions. The FDA eased prohibitions against gay men donating blood in 2015; revised rules now say that gay men may donate blood after one year of celibacy. Other countries like the UK have reduced the celibacy period to only three months. Nevertheless, activists continue to criticize the ban, as heterosexual people who engage in risky sexual behavior face no celibacy period.