California LGBTQ+ Groups Urge End to Gay/Bi Blood Ban
As the United States faces its first-ever emergency blood shortage crisis, four LGBTQ+ organizations—APLA Health, Equality California (EQCA), Los Angeles LGBT Center, and San Francisco AIDS Foundation—have joined California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara in urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to overturn its discriminatory policy maintained requiring men who have sex with men to abstain from sex for three months before donating blood. Recently, Commissioner Lara sent a letter to FDA’s Acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra urging the complete end to the FDA’s discriminatory policy.
“This is outdated, discriminatory guidance based in prejudice—not in public health—and it is contributing to our current national blood donation crisis. I respectfully urge you to permanently lift the entire deferral period in order for a male donor who has had sex with another man from donating blood,” Commissioner Lara wrote.
The FDA first instituted its lifetime ban against gay and bi men in 1983 when little was known about the mechanisms of HIV transmission and the AIDS epidemic was concentrated primarily in the gay male community. In 2015 the FDA revised the ban to allow men who have sex with men to donate blood if they abstain from sex for a full year. In April 2020, the one-year deferral period was reduced to three months to meet the nation’s urgent need for blood during the COVID-19 pandemic. The groups cite research by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law indicating that lifting the ban would produce up to 615,300 additional pints of blood per year—enough blood to help save the lives of more than one million people—can potentially be contributed by gay and bi men. The UK, France, and Greece have all abolished their ban on blood donations by gay and bi men.
Russell Roybal, Chief Advancement Officer of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said in a prepared statement, “At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was denied the ability to donate plasma because I am Queer. As a person who had contracted COVID-19 very early on, I knew donating my plasma could have helped researchers just beginning to study vaccines and treatments yet was screened out of the process which required a twelve-month deferral for men who have sex with men. Even with the shortened three-month deferral, it still sends the message that our blood is dangerous and worthless, which only serves to promote stigma and shame.”
“It’s long past time for the FDA to adopt a policy based on science, not stigma,” said EQCA Legislative Director Tami Martin. “We’re grateful to Commissioner Lara for his continued leadership in the fight to end this outdated, discriminatory ban once and for all.”