Donation, Not Discrimination: Lift The Blood Donor Ban
For years, I helped save lives and brought joy to my life by donating blood. My blood type is needed and sometimes in short supply. Yet the FDA’s decision to ban gay and bisexual men from donating blood in the 1980s ended my ability to help others through this simple act.
The FDAs decision in the early 80s was partly ignorance. But ultimately, it was a political move that was intentionally discriminatory. I was far from the only person impacted. Millions of gay and bisexual men were blocked from donating lifesaving blood, despite the fact that screening for HIV had become a standard part of the donation process. The ban targeted every man who had sex with men, regardless of risk behaviors. It didn’t matter whether you used protection, how frequently you were tested for HIV, and if you had one partner or multiple.
And that’s not even the whole story. The FDA at the same time also banned donations by people who injected drugs and people who at any point in their life exchanged sex for money – again, regardless of frequency, risk behavior, or how long it had been since the person had engaged in those behaviors. In practice (and by some reports, in policy), the FDA bans donation by all transgender people who have had sex with men. Each of these bans is grounded in stigma. They create whole classes of people who are marked as irresponsible and dangerous.
Though the ability to test for HIV and scientific understanding of transmission risk has been available for many years, the FDA waited for 30 years to begin to lift the ban against some gay men donating blood. While this decision by the FDA is a step forward, it is far from a victory. The “lifting” only applies to gay and bisexual men who haven’t had sex with men in the previous year, and doesn’t change any of the other discriminatory bans. The science exists to protect the blood supply, and the way forward is clear: it is time to stop discriminating against gay and bisexual men, people who’ve engaged in sex work, and people who’ve injected drugs.
By Russell Roybal, Deputy Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force