Ban the Blood Ban! Take action

June 15, 2016

By H. Matthew Moy, M.D., M.P.H. & Shima Ge

Find a script for action at the bottom of this post.

I hate to say it, but we’ve heard it all before. We’ve heard the speeches, the prayers, the tweets, the photos, and the rage. This, unfortunately isn’t anything new, and it’s sad and frustrating that it’s starting to become a cycle. One that brings about less and less shock, but still the same amount of sadness. Followed by the anger and uproar about the ability to rightfully own guns that drowns out anything else in the media. Or maybe that’s just me. But this time, it’s different. It wasn’t just wanton random tragic killing, it was targeted discrimination against the LGBT community that happens to be one of the deadliest mass shooting in US history. But with great tragedy, comes the opportunity for good people to do great things.

We’ve all seen the videos and photos of people lining up to donate their blood to the victims of this tragedy. Through all their good will, however, many were disqualified from trying to do their part to help their fellow human being by the very nature of their sexual orientation. That’s right, while trying to fight a crime perpetrated on bigotry, there still existed prejudice in the system that prevented good hearts from contributing.  We’re talking about the antiquated institutional discrimination of the LGBT population by the FDA.

In 1983, at the dawn of the AIDS crisis and the height of illiteracy about how the disease was spread, the FDA prohibited blood donations outright from men who had sex with men since 1977. Even if the sex was safe, and even if it was only once. This decision was rooted in the fear and ignorance that AIDS was specifically a homosexual disease, as it was colloquially referred to as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Disease). Since then, our knowledge about the virus and testing for its presence in patients have substantially improved. Last year (and not without controversy),  the FDA re-visited their unequal ban on whom can donate their blood. They replaced their old ban with a new ban: Men who have sex with other men are prohibited from donating blood unless they have been celibate for one full year. This includes men who in monogamous, long-term relationships.

This half-measure does little to ease the blatant homophobia behind the decision. It is absolutely ludicrous that a person can have unprotected sex with multiple female partners and still donate, but a monogamous man practicing safe sex with another man cannot. How is that fair when the safeguards to test the blood for HIV/AIDS are already in place?

All blood is screened for blood-borne diseases regardless the individual it’s coming from, and the virus can be detected within weeks of infection. Ignoring medical evidence and the community is irresponsible and illustrative of the the antiquated mindset that still exists within the FDA. This new ban on men who have sex with men still continues the stigma around this population and their sexual health. Despite the great strides we’ve made for equal rights in this country, including the right for all people regardless of sexual orientation to declare their love and marry, we still have these regulations in place that will perpetuate that one population is somehow better than another.

The nation still faces a persistent nationwide blood shortage. It’s time to end it. Nations are already taking steps to review their policies or have already removed their bans (such as Argentina). However, the US, the supposed greatest nation in the world, is still stuck in their petty fear that everyone who isn’t a cis white male is scary. It is abysmal, and we cannot stand by and let this continue. The time to act is now. So we’ve made it easy for you readers to take action.

Write an email and make a quick call to the FDA Consumer Affairs Branch of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CEBR):

(800) 835-4709
(240) 402-8010

And here’s a script that you can use!

My name is (name) and I am a medical student at (school) and a member of the American Medical Student Association. In the wake of the Orlando shooting this past weekend at Pulse nightclub, it has become apparent the damage that homophobia can cause. Since 1983, the FDA has allowed antiquated and homophobic views on HIV dictate its standards on blood donation. With new knowledge on how HIV is transmitted and new technology available for HIV testing, there is no science supporting the belief that men who have sex with men should maintain a year of celibacy before becoming eligible to donate. It is imperative that the FDA permanently changes its standards for blood donation so that men who have sex with men have the same opportunity to save lives that others do.

We stand united, together, in solidarity.

Matt Moy is AMSA’s Education & Advocacy Fellow. Shima Ge is AMSA’s Gender & Sexuality Action Committee Chair.