stupid policies

Why Isn’t the FDA Banning Blood From Black Women?

The Food and Drug Administration’s ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men even once since 1977 will remain on the books, if the Health and Human Services’s advisory committee has its way. The rationale for keeping the iron wall up? Because gay men “are, as a group, at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections.” But if it’s just about math, and not discrimination, why isn’t HHS advising the FDA stop accepting blood donations from, say, blacks?

Looking into the FDA’s rationale, William Saletan observes:

The FDA bases its MSM policy on simple math. “Men who have had sex with men since 1977 have an HIV prevalence … 60 times higher than the general population,” the agency observes. “Even taking into account that 75% of HIV infected men who have sex with men already know they are HIV positive and would be unlikely to donate blood,” that leaves a population of MSM blood-donor applicants whose HIV prevalence is “over 15 fold higher than the general population.”

So surely the FDA wants to keep the population safe from high risk donors, right? Then ban blacks!

So a 15-fold difference is good enough to warrant group exclusion. How about a nine-fold difference? According to the Centers for Disease Control, HIV prevalence is eight to nine times higher among blacks than among whites, and HIV incidence (the rate of new infections in a given year) is seven times higher. For black women, HIV prevalence is 18 times higher than for white women.

And these numbers understate the likely difference in risk to the blood supply. A recent CDC analysis of MSM [men who have sex with men] in five cities found that while only 18 percent of the HIV-infected white men were unaware of their infections, 67 percent of the infected black men were unaware. If the awareness gap between blacks and whites overall is even half as great as it was among the men in this study—i.e., if blacks are twice as likely as whites to be unaware that they’re infected, and therefore more likely to try to donate infected blood—then theoretically, black donors are just as risky as MSM donors.

That wouldn’t be discrimination, right? That would just be doing what’s best for America’s blood supply — red-lining entire demographics of people with immutable characteristics.

Is race a less legitimate basis for exclusion than sexual orientation is? Race is immutable, but plenty of evidence suggests that homosexuality is immutable, too. Technically, the MSM exclusion isn’t a gay exclusion: You can be gay as long as you don’t have sex with other men. A parallel policy, applied to race, would be that you can be black as long as you don’t have sex with other blacks. After all, the No. 1 reason you’re more likely to get infected by a gay man than by a straight one is the already high prevalence of HIV among gay men. The same is true of the higher infection risk among blacks.


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  • Chitown Kev

    Ooooooooh, this is going to be a piping hot mess.

  • jason

    The FDA’s ban on healthy gay men giving blood is a clear example of homophobia and “victim class priority syndrome”. We gays are scapegoated because, you know, we’re “icky” and a bit lowly. Black women, however, are part of this “more important” victim class known as the “black community”, and hence mustn’t be discriminated against.

    The FDA can stick it up its ass.

  • jason

    Also, have you noticed the linguistic demonization of gay men in how the mainstream media, CDC and FDA report on HIV? Note their use of the all-encompassing “gay men are high risk”, as if, somehow, we are all at the same degree of risk of catching something. I personally find it offensive.

    What this linguistic trick is doing is attributing HIV to our orientation and not just our behavior. It’s as if we, the gays, have invented HIV, have put it in our secret little weapons, and stand ready to fire it at the innocent masses.

    Don’t fall for the linguistic trick, guys.

  • jason

    Notice also how the blood bank always comes up with this canard about “erring on the side of caution”. Well, if they’re erring on the side of caution, why are they accepting blood from heterosexual men who engage in unprotected anal sex with females? And why are they accepting blood from females who engage in unprotected anal sex?

    If the blood bank was truly erring on the side of caution, it wouldn’t be any less cautious with the anal sex-loving heterosexuals. The fact that it allows anal sex-loving heterosexuals to give blood speaks volumes about its moral inconsistency and outright prejudice towards gay men.

  • Cam

    If there is still a risk from ANY group of people here is a novel idea. Research better screening techniques, or better yet, find a safe process that can sterilize blood cleanly. Put all that discrimination effort into finding a solution to the problem.

  • Revemupman

    This is exactly my point. Women are becoming the social norm/trend while men remain in “DEVIANT” status

    Truth is truth, no matter how much you try to cover it up.

  • Action Jackson

    This is such a great post. It’s guaranteed to start yet another all too common, and very boring, message board race-riot. But, in the end, the rule will remain the same.

    Gay men, regardless of their race, are the greatest risk. Though discriminatory, this rule helps helps protect blood recipients. I love all my gay brothers and lesbian sisters, but I don’t want to be infected with tainted blood as a result of a blood transfusion and I don’t want any of you to be infected either. Clearly the FDA is too lazy or simply doesn’t have the technology to examine all blood before it is distributed to patients.

    If the FDA starts discriminating against gay men RECEIVING blood just because we’re gay, then we will have a problem.

  • Hilarious

    When you take something offensive and redirect it to another group of people it’s still offensive.

    One day that might sink in to your heads. Directing offensive comments towards black people aren’t going to get you anywhere at all. Especially since many bigots are racist online to boot so you’re just giving them two things to laugh at instead of one.

    I really just don’t have the energy to keep going into why this method of replacing gay with black doesn’t do shit to move anything forward for gay rights, but I’m guessing the people who keep doing it will never understand why.

    It’s just tiresome at this point. You can’t fight ignorance with ignorance. Especially when you’re aiming it at another minority.

  • Rodrigo

    Red Herring. The issue isn’t what other groups should be discriminated against, the issue is how does the FDA get its needed blood donations in a manner that does not presume status based on generalizations of larger group classifications. If babies are being swept out with the bathwater, you refine your tools of extracting water, you don’t say its not fair that a X baby is being taken out but not baby Y.

  • Pete

    @Action Jackson: I think you completely missed the point of this post. Black people are 8-9 times more likely to have HIV. And on top of that, it is a good inference from the current data that black people who are infected don’t know that they are infected. This makes black people nearly as risky of donors as MSMs, if not more so. So the policy is hypocritical. Do you favor excluding black donors?

    Also, from what I’ve read, the FDA already screens all the blood. However, there is still a slim chance that some infected blood does go undetected.

    It seems to me that an assessment of sexual history would be a better indicator of who makes a good donor. Maybe exclude anyone who has had more than three sexual partners total, more than one unprotected anal partner, and more than two unprotected vaginal partners in the last year. They would have to balance it carefully to make sure they don’t exclude too many donors, but a simple survey over a few months worth of donors could help them find that balance. As it is, a woman who gets gang-banged from both ends unprotected by 50 guys every night can donate, while gay men in long-term monogomous relationships cannot.

  • Revemupman

    “As it is, a woman who gets gang-banged from both ends unprotected by 50 guys every night can donate, while gay men in long-term monogomous relationships cannot.”

    Reason being is because women would have a fit if this policy was affecting women just as much as gay men. They would have a swarm of feminist orginizations on their tails. Just another reason why men are being left behind in society. But who am I, just another misogynist huh?

  • Yet Another

    So because black gay men are less likely to know they are infected, ALL blacks are less likely to know they’re infected?

    This is a leap. You’re really stretching with this one.

    The ban on gay blood is discriminatory. Period. No need to make such an idiotic comparison based on flawed assumptions. The FDA should end the ban on sexually active gay donors.

  • beverlyheels


    nope, but you misunderstand feminism if you think it’s leaving men behind.

  • The Bony Man

    Of course, MSM doesn’t necessarily mean gay men. If you plan on never having sex, ever. This seems like just another way of saying, “We don’t hate you, just your dirty, dirty sex. Ew!”

  • reason

    The solution is fairly simple, require frequent HIV test in order to give blood. This will also protect against other infective pathogens. On top of the current regulations for blood testing, you would have a pretty good system. They should just make testing mandatory every year if you see a doctor, or more often. Unless one is genetically inoculated from the virus there is risk, therefore pointing the finger at any group is worthless, we need to focus on prevention and rigorous testing of the blood supply on both ends before and after the blood is donated.

  • Action Jackson

    @Pete: Pete, I am very clear on what the point of this post is. I am also very clear that blacks are not 8 to 9 times more likely to have HIV. Let me add that your proposal to “Maybe exclude anyone who has had more than three sexual partners total, more than one unprotected anal partner, and more than two unprotected vaginal partners in the last year” is completely insane.

    It doesn’t matter how many partners you have. You can have just ONE PARTNER, and that one partner may infect you with HIV. Your proposal is just as insane as a teenage girl saying I can’t be pregnant because we only did it one time. One time is all that it takes.

    Pete, your train of thought is quite scary. It also helps explain why so many gay men are still getting infected with AIDS even in 2010. You should know better Pete, but clearly, you don’t.

  • Pira

    As horrible as it feels to say it, there are a fair amount of gay men who engage in risky sexual practices. How many of us use dental dams when performing oral sex? Lots of STIs can be transmitted that way, even HIV (though with a much lower transmission rate than other forms of sex). I know this also applies to heterosexuals, but if they ask people about their sexual history and practices, chances are they’re going to play it down or outright lie about it.

    Regular testing would end up being the best way to go about it, and it’s a damn good idea even if you’re not donating blood

  • GuyDads

    A little blood history: Dr. Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950) was an African-American physician and medical researcher in the field of blood transfusions, blood storage. During World War II, he developed large-scale blood banks. In 1941 Dr Drew was chosen to lead the American Red Cross blood bank program. However, a War Department directive at the time stated that, “It is not advisable to indiscriminately mix Caucasian and Negro blood for use in blood transfusions for the U.S. Military”. Dr Drew protested against this blood segregation, which has no basis in scientific fact, and as a result was forced to resign his position. The US Military did not end segregation of its blood supplies until 1949. Politics and bigotry of blood and the military still continues today.

  • jason

    Of course there are some gay men who engage in risky behavior. But there are also straight men and women who engage in risky behavior. The FDA, however, only sees us gays as being dangerous.

    Pure prejudice and homophobia.

  • Revemupman


    “But there are also straight men and women who engage in risky behavior. The FDA, however, only sees us gays as being dangerous”.

    Exactly, and look it gets better.

    No one is there to help us. Not even female bisexual celebs either. How rude isn’t it? I guess I’m still a woman hating sexist pig am I?

  • MissVampireDiaries

    I’m a black woman and I donate every 60 days! My mom needs blood constantly. Don’t try to stop me from helping people out!

  • hyhybt

    @Cam: Doesn’t blood have to be alive? Is it even theoretically possible to sterilize blood without killing the blood cells themselves?

  • Kyler

    Why not just get rid of the human element? How much money is spent annualy on developing new tests to screen the blood supply? Why don’t we spend the same amount to create a viable synthetic blood substitute. Then we wouldn’t need to worry if the blood is tainted by some STD/STI. Groups wouldn’t be excluded due to percieved risk of infection rate. I know its scifi but so once were cell phones, computers and space travel. Where there is a will there is a way, as they say.

  • Revemupman

    “I’m a black woman and I donate every 60 days! My mom needs blood constantly. Don’t try to stop me from helping people out!”

    Don’t you see, if they ban one group of people to donate what makes you think they can’t change the policy on your ass?

    Instead of sitting here allowing this. You’re suppose to help advocate for those whose voices are muted here……

    But like I said earlier, we serve everyone except ourselves…….

  • Alexa

    Unless they changed things recently, gay men aren’t the only ones who can’t give blood. Nobody who lived in the UK before the mid 80s can donate because of Mad Cow Disease. That includes my vegan friend who spent a year at school in London around 1980.

    Both bans are completely ridiculous, any kind of blanket ban is, especially when the nation’s blood supply is in dire need of donations. Then again, DADT is against US interests as well, so none of it makes sense.

  • Pete

    @Action Jackson: Of course having sex one time can make you positive. Did I say it couldn’t? But someone who has unprotected sex with 50 different people is about 50 times MORE LIKELY to have contracted an STD.

    I’m not saying the standards I listed should be THE standards, I’m just saying that a proper assessment of someone’s sexual history makes a hell of a lot more sense than excluding an entire class of people – some of whom have an incredibly low risk of having infected blood. I’d certainly rather receive my blood from a gay man in a monogamous relationship who gets tested regularly than from a woman who gets gang-banged by strangers daily and hasn’t ever been tested for STDs. It’s risky sexual behavior that poses an increased risk of HIV, not your sexual orientation.

  • greenmusic23f

    @Action Jackson: “@Pete: Pete, I am very clear on what the point of this post is. I am also very clear that blacks are not 8 to 9 times more likely to have HIV.”

    Why are you “clear” that blacks are not 8 to 9 times more likely? That is what the CDC determined. What is your source against this?

Comments are closed.