WRITTEN AND CONTRIBUTED BY KWYN TOWNSEND RILEY

What You Need to Know:

LGBTQ advocates and more than two dozen members of Congress, including four Democratic members of the House Oversight Committee, and two openly LGBTQ members of the House (Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), are pressing the Federal Drugs Administration (FDA) to reassess its current blood donation policy on men who have sex with men.

A letter has been sent to the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and FDA acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock and signed by a group of 22 U.S. senators led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, one of two openly LGBTQ senators.

“Any policy that continues to categorically single out the LGBTQ+ community is discriminatory and wrong. Given advances in blood screening and safety technology, a time-based policy for gay and bisexual men is not scientifically sound, continues to effectively exclude an entire group of people, and does not meet the urgent demands of the moment,” the group wrote.

Restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood stem from the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. In 1983, the federal government placed a lifetime ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood in an effort to keep HIV out of the blood supply. Three decades later, the ban was replaced with a one-year abstinence requirement. Recently, in April 2020, amid the earlier pandemic-induced blood shortage, the FDA decreased the donation deferral period for men who have sex with men from 12 months to three months of abstinence. 

The surge of Covid-19 cases has again left the Red Cross struggling to find donors and forcing doctors to make difficult decisions about who should receive life-saving blood transfusions. Blood donations have dropped to 10 percent when they were originally at 62 percent.

The Red Cross has urged the FDA to lift the ban on donations. If the FDA were to lift donor bans, the annual blood supply would increase by two to four percent or 345,000 to 615,300 pints of blood annually, according to the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA School of Law.

Why You Need to Know:
Donating blood is very important. Blood donors who are Black play a critical role in helping people with sickle cell disease, the most common genetic blood disease in the U.S. 

Donating blood saves lives. There shouldn’t be any law that prevents this from happening.