“It’s been a long time coming”: Blood donors won’t soon be turned away for being gay

In a significant shift from its long-criticized policy, the FDA has released newly drafted guidelines that would allow gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships to donate blood, though equality advocates like New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman They say there is still a lot to do. in the fair treatment of homosexual donors.

Senator Brad Hoylman has championed the change in blood banks. Photo: Phil O’Brien

What first reported Per the Wall Street Journal, sources close to the FDA told the outlet that the agency would tighten its longstanding restrictions on donating blood to include gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships. FDA policy, established in 1983 at the height of the AIDS crisispreviously banned any donations from men who have sex with men and in 2015, allowed gay and bisexual men to donate only if they had abstained from sexual activity for a full year.

Senator Hoylman, an openly gay legislator who long advocated adjusting policy told W42ST: “It’s gratifying to know that the FDA is finally making a change that is aligned with countries around the world and scientific evidence, and will end this discriminatory policy, particularly at a time when we have had and continue to face blood scarcity I welcome it, and it has been a long time coming.

The FDA’s most recent reversal is the second policy change in two years. After the COVID-19 pandemic created a major blood shortage, the the agency reduced the deferral period to three months, but left those in long-term relationships stranded without an option to donate openly. In 2020, W42ST profiled an anonymous West Sider in a long-term relationship who chose to donate his antibody-filled blood for plasma therapy without fully disclosing his identity as a gay man.

The Hell’s Kitchen resident, a cancer survivor who based his decision on wanting to make sure others could get help in the wake of the pre-vaccine wave of COVID, told W42ST: “A big part of me thought I could just to protest [the ban] and add my name to the growing list of people who have written articles and connected to social media.” Instead, she chose to donate and “potentially help four people who are in ICU and struggling to breathe.”

Bags of blood at the GiveBloodNYC initiative in New York City. Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office of Photography

Senator Hoylman, who is already a strong supporter of the development of the COVID-19 vaccine and one of their test volunteers — raised his frustration with politics after being turned away from a blood bank because he’s gay. “There is a huge blood shortage in New York and I tried to do my part by donating,” he said. aware on Twitter in May 2020. “I got turned down for being gay – turns out the FDA hasn’t implemented the new criteria for LGBTQ donors they announced last month.” Despite being excluded from the process, the senator continued to encourage others to donate “for those who can’t.”

Fed up with being denied the chance to help other New Yorkers in a time of need, Hoylman wrote to FDA Commissioner Stephan Hahn in May 2020 to argue that the agency’s tweaks still presented a discriminatory policy without evidence. science to support its regulations. “In New York City, there are hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who might be interested in donating blood, but cannot because the FDA continues to treat gay men as second-class citizens,” Hoylman wrote.

“As the only openly gay senator from New York, this is a personal issue for me: my husband and I would like to help our community by donating blood; however, his agency refuses to allow us to do so unless we remain celibate for three months, a requirement. that the FDA would never consider imposing on heterosexual donors.”

Hoylman referred to a UCLA study stating that allowing gay and bisexual men across the country to donate blood would add up to a four percent increase to the nation’s blood supply, adding: “The FDA claims that every blood donation saves three lives, which means that gay men who donate blood could save more than 1 million lives.”

All donated blood is rigorously tested by the FDA for a variety of infectious diseases, including HIV. Hoylman added that “existing FDA policies for screening and testing donated blood virtually eliminate the likelihood of HIV entering the blood pool. The nucleic acid test (NAT), currently used by the FDA, detects HIV in donated blood with a high degree of accuracy. In fact, the FDA estimates that the risk of HIV infection from blood tested by NAT is only one in 1.47 million.”

Senator Brad Hoylman has been at the forefront of promoting medical change; here he is seen participating in Pfizer’s vaccine trials. Photo: Senator Hoylman Twitter

And while Wednesday’s news was seen as a significant step forward for LGBTQIA rights, advocates stressed that much remained to be done to achieve a truly just and inclusive policy. Said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD in response to the news: “While today’s reports of a delayed FDA move is an important step, our community and leading medical experts will not stop advocating for the FDA lifts all restrictions against qualified LGBTQ blood donor applicants. As LGBTQ leaders and medical experts have said for years: Bans and restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men are rooted in stigma, not science. Giving one set of rules to some people and another set of rules to others, based purely on identity, is flagrant discrimination. This fight will not end until all LGBTQ Americans who want to donate blood are met with the same protocols as other Americans. All potential blood donors, whose donations could save lives, should be treated equally. There is no excuse for choosing stigma over science in 2022.”

Hoylman agreed: “I still think there’s a stigmatizing effect to the fact that men who are allowed to donate now have to be in monogamous relationships. Frankly, I don’t know of any other class of Americans who are viewed by the number of sexual partners they have; I don’t think heterosexual couples are asked the same question,” he said. “It’s a step forward, but I think we need to keep pushing the FDA to fully accept this issue.”

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