Why the FDA’s new stance on gay blood is ‘still discriminatory’


The FDA on Tuesday announced a proposal to end a three-decade ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood—as long as they haven’t had sex with another man in the past year.

Which means the policy still prevents men from donating blood solely based on their sexual orientation, instead of a more modern individual risk assessment. LGBT rights activists, who fought to allow gay men to donate blood for years, say the latest recommendation still puts the FDA behind the times.

“While a one year deferral is a step in the right direction, it is still discriminatory,” said Ryan James Yezak, activist and founder of the National Gay Blood Drive, a group that organizes gay men to visit blood drive locations to raise awareness of the ban.

“We want to remove discrimination from the blood donation process, and believe in order to do so, as well as maintain the top priority of safety of the blood supply, that blood donors should be assessed by individual behaviors and not their sexual orientation,” Yezak told Fusion.

The FDA’s reasoning behind the one-year abstinence period is due to men who have sex with facing higher risks sexually transmitted diseases . The American Red Cross also said they support the one-year deferral, saying on Tuesday that “donor deferral criteria should be made comparable with criteria for other behaviors that pose an increased risk for transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections.”

“[But that position] simply cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology,” said David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement sent to Fusion.

Other countries are ahead of the U.S. in adopting less discriminatory blood-donation policies.

In Mexico for example, it’s illegal to discriminate against gay men who want to donate blood. Mexico lifted its ban on gay blood donors in 2012, turning their focus on risky behaviors rather than social groups. Gay and bisexual men with a history of using condoms are allowed to donate blood. However intravenous drug users and sex workers are not allowed to donate blood.

And countries like Italy, Spain, South Africa, and Chile also use an individual risk assessment for potential blood donors.

The U.S ambassador to Spain James Costos, who is openly gay, recently posted a picture of himself donating blood at the U.S. embassy in Madrid.

Costos shares his Instagram account with his partner of more than 15 years. The irony is that if they were in the U.S. they could potentially be banned from donating blood.

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