What’s Blood Equality all about? Learn the quick facts about the gay blood ban so you can stand up for science, not stigma.
APRIL 2020 UPDATE: THE FDA POLICY FOR MSM DONATION
- For more than 30 years, all gay and bisexual men were completely banned from donating blood in the United States. This ban was based on fear and misconceptions of AIDS and HIV at the time. In December 2015, the FDA revised the lifetime ban, allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood on the condition that they have not engaged in any sexual activity with other men in the 1 year preceding the donation.
- Today in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic and due to massive blood shortages, the FDA revised the policy to allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood if they are celibate for 3 months preceding the donation. Unfortunately, this 3-month deferral continues to stigmatize MSM by not demanding the same requirements for ALL donors. The bias continues.
- We are aligned with the AMA, which responded that while this might be seen by some as a positive step, “At the same time, we urge the FDA to take future steps to remove the categorical restrictions for blood donations by MSM so they are instead based on a person’s individual risk, consistent with the latest scientific evidence, to ensure blood donation criteria is equitably applied across all people.”
We remain committed to the fight. It is time for Science, not Stigma.
What is the result of this policy?
- More than 615,000 pints of blood are turned away annually just because the donor is gay or bisexual. This is blood that could help save the lives of 1.8 million people annually, according to the Williams Institute
- It reinforces negative stereotypes about gay and bisexual people—particularly that AIDS and HIV is a “gay disease”
- It supports the false perception that heterosexual people are at low risk for HIV infection, while allowing individuals who participate in high-risk behavior, but who do not identify as gay or bisexual, to donate blood. This doesn’t make sense
Why is the deferral period for MSM set at 1 year?
- The FDA argues that there isn’t sufficient data to determine whether a deferral policy of less than 1 year would increase risk to the blood supply; however, other countries like Spain and Italy don’t have a 1-year deferral
- They also fear that the gay community may spread a new, undiscovered infectious disease. This is completely unfounded and therefore unacceptable
Can men who have sex with men donate blood at all?
Yes, but only if a man meets all other donor eligibility criteria AND if his last sexual contact with another man (anal or oral sex) was 12 or more months ago. But let’s be real, this means “no.”
How is blood tested?
- Every sample of blood is screened using 2 different tests to help ensure the blood is safe
- Tests now allow for detection of HIV within 7 to 10 days of infection (according to the American Red Cross). This “window period” is how long it takes before donation for the virus to develop in a person’s blood at levels detectable by current tests. With the window being 7-10 days, there is no reason for a 1-year deferral
What is the latest testing technology?
- The Nucleic Acid Test (NAT) is used to test most blood donations in the US and is highly accurate, detecting HIV within just a few days of infection. Yet there is still a 1-year ban
- NAT detects viral genes themselves, rather than antibodies or viral proteins, allowing for earlier detection
- With this sophisticated testing, the FDA estimates the risk of HIV infection from a blood transfusion at about 1 in 1.47 million
How can the policy be changed to ensure safety and also not be discriminatory?
- First and foremost, the FDA should update the blood donation screener (the Donor History Questionnaire) so that all potential donors are screened for high-risk behavior, regardless of sexual orientation. Only prospective donors determined to be at high risk should be subject to deferral periods
- The policy should allow low-risk gay and bisexual men to donate blood, as their blood would be screened as well
- It makes sense that MSM who are identified to be part of a higher-risk group should, like their straight counterparts, be identified and considered differently. This can include IV drug users, commercial sex workers, or people who report unprotected sex with partner(s) with HIV or with unknown HIV status. Experts should agree on how to manage all people, including MSMs, who fall into this higher-risk donor category
Is the FDA open to updating the policy?
- Yes! The FDA has participated in multiple medical advisory panels hosted by Blood Equality and a number of medical, legal, and ethical experts. We are hopeful that these meetings will continue and that we can collaborate to take meaningful, swift action to revise blood donation policy.
- The FDA has officially announced re-evaluation of the current 1-year deferral. They requested public comments for modifying the policy and screening questionnaire in 2016, and are working with these suggestions to explore paths forward.
What is Blood Equality doing to change the current policy?
- Blood Equality is actively committed to a blood donation policy based on science, not stigma. Starting in 2015, we have organized several events and public discussions, including:
- A series of exhibitions and programs presented in part by the University of Alabama at Birmingham in collaboration with community partners
- An expert panel at American University
- A press conference on the steps of New York City Hall on World Blood Donor Day
- An awareness and art installation event on the High Line in NYC
- Park and city installations to raise awareness
- We also host Blood Equality Medical Advisory Boards (hosted in conjunction with GMHC) to evaluate the current MSM blood donation policy and to urge the FDA to further revise the current policy. Experts on blood donation policies, HIV, and blood safety along with LGBT advocates convene periodically to provide updates and discuss progress. If you would like to be involved in this effort, please contact us