Local Organization Wants Ban Lifted on Gays Donating Blood

The Food and Drug Administration has considered lifting the ban in the past but hasn’t taken any action

December 8, 2011—Turning away gay men who’d like to donate blood is a practice the American Red Cross’s Pacific Northwest regional office would like to change.

“We definitely would like to see the ban lifted and or changed,” said Daphne Mathew, the American Red Cross’s regional spokesperson. “It could increase our donations,”

Blood shortages are common in the Pacific Northwest, Mathew said, especially during the holiday season.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates blood donation, has banned gay men from donating blood since 1977, around the same time the AIDS epidemic occurred. The justification is that gay men, as a group, are at higher risk of being HIV positive and having other diseases that can be transmitted by blood.

However, the FDA doesn’t ban sexually active heterosexual men or women from donating blood, even if they may have had sex with a gay man in the past. Even men who have had sex with a prostitute or a woman known to be infected with HIV are not banned from donating blood—instead they are put on a one-year waiting period.

“My personal opinion is that it has to do with homophobia and miseducation,” said Michael Kaplan, the executive director of Cascade AIDS Project (CAP). “It’s such an outdated concept. It is discriminatory.”

The FDA considered lifting the ban earlier last year, but decided not to. England, Scotland and Wales lifted a similar ban in September. The FDA did not return repeated calls from The Lund Report for comment.

Mathew said the American Red Cross wants the FDA to lift the ban, and have blood donations of gay men regulated in the same manner as other populations engaging in high risk activities. That policy is to ban an individual from donating blood for 12 months if the initial screening and questionnaire at a donation site reveals they have engaged in high risk behaviors, including having unprotected sex or having shared hypodermic needles.

Mathew said the American Red Cross already asks in its questionnaire whether potential donors have had unprotected sex, sex with a man who has had sex with another man in the past, and a question about HIV/AIDS.

The American Red Cross also has sophisticated enough technology to do numerous “rigorous” tests at four different testing labs to determine whether donated blood has any diseases that could be transmitted to a recipient, including hepatitis, chagas disease (a tropical parasite disease) and HIV. “Donating blood is safer today than it has ever been,” Mathew said.

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The ban also doesn't accept donations from heterosexual women who are in a long-term monogamous relationship with a man who has EVER had sex with another man. My husband of nearly 10 years years had a boyfriend 17 years ago. With the ban in place, the only way I can ever donate blood is if my husband and I don't sleep together for at least 1 year. It's ridiculous and embarrassing to go through the whole process, just to be turned away for this reason, and then there's the coworkers who wonder why I don't donate. I hope they succeed in lifting the ban. The Red Cross asserts that the need is great, but apparently not great enough to allow any healthy person to donate.

http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/msm MSM = "Men who have sex with men", as in gay, bisexual, etc. Across the board, in major US cities, that gay/bisexual man (MSM) walking into the clinic offering to donate blood. Statistically, he has a one-in-five (19%) chance of being HIV positive. Of that one-in-five HIV positive, almost half (44%) are unaware of their infection. Black MSM, 28% (more than one in four) are HIV positive. Hispanic/Latino MSM, 18% White MSM 16% American Indian/Alaska native MSM 20% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander MSM 18% In 2007, MSM were 44 to 86 times as likely to be diagnosed with HIV compared with other men, and 40 to 77 times as likely as women. From 2005–2008, estimated diagnoses of HIV infection increased approximately 17% among MSM. So that healthy person walking in, says he's gay and he's healthy, he stands a good chance of being wrong. Follow the link and read it yourself, this is from the CDC. Whether policy should be changed is controversial. These statistics should give pause.