Many gay men remain barred from donating blood during critical national shortage

Critics rebuke FDA policy that originated during AIDS epidemic, recent amendment

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The US government continues to bar many sexually active gay men from donating blood, as hospitals plead for help with COVID-19 hospitalizations at an all-time high.  

Current FDA rules block men who have sex with men from being donors, unless they have not had sex in three months; a rule obviously based on the honor system.

Despite the American Red Cross sounding a new and reverberating alarm for a critical blood shortage, the FDA is not immediately reversing an amended policy that first originated at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

That was 1984. In 2022, James Millner in Richmond is among a population who may desire to assist the current crisis, but cannot.

“It is morally responsible, I think it is something that is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to other people. It’s literally the gift of life,” Millner said while recalling his high school days when he organized several blood drives.

Millner, executive director of Virginia Pride — an LGBTQ advocacy group in Richmond — says the FDA policy hurts him, and fiancé Richard; a 10-year pair.

“We need to continue to prioritize science over stigma, he said.

The federal government had banned all donations from these men indefinitely; stemming from their 1984 policy.

In 2020, the rule was relaxed, but critics say it still targets gay men.

“For people of the community we know, this is not new to us, and, it’s very unfortunate,” Darius Pryor said.

As manger of HIV testing and prevention at Health Brigade in Richmond, Pryor said the FDA’s policy is confusing.

“If I were to give blood and my blood were to be cleared [to be used in a patient], why would that blood not be able to be used?,” he asked. 

Tonight, the Virginia arm of the American Red Cross issued a clear rebuke off the FDA policy in light of increased COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“The Red Cross believes blood donation eligibility should not be based on sexual orientation…” “…and that accurate donor histories and medically supported donor deferral criteria are critical to the continued safety of blood transfusion,” the statement read.

The Virginia branch of the American Red Cross issued a strong rebuke of the FDA’s policy barring sexually active gay men from currently fighting the nationwide blood shortage.

Tuesday, the FDA indicated to 8News they had no immediate plans to revoke or amend their current policy, but mentioned their current study to determine if it should be reviewed.

Follow up questions sent to the FDA Tuesday and Wednesday were not responded to by the time of this story’s publication.

8News asked the FDA explain why their policy remains despite all donated blood being screened before use in patients, and how can the FDA answer to gay men in monogamous relationships with just one sexual partner?

The FDA’s three-month blood donor ban also applies to women who have recently had sex with men who have sex with men, people who recently received tattoos and piercings, as well as sex workers.

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