Why We Need To Change The Homophobic Restrictions On Blood Donation Now

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Amid the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shortage of blood donations, the Federal Drug Administration announced on Thursday that they were loosening restrictions on donation eligibility. Previously, according to regulations, men who have sex with men, and women who have sex with men who have sex with men, had to wait a year to be able to donate blood — a practice that has long been viewed as discriminatory. The new guidelines require deferring for 3 months as opposed to 12, and come after long efforts to overturn this practice that have recently taken on new meaning.
“As a result of this public health emergency, there is a significant shortage in the supply of blood in the United States,” the FDA wrote on its site. The change comes after mounting pressure from advocacy groups and politicians alike, and even the Red Cross, which had committed to trying to overturn the ban. New York City resident Sabri Ben-Achour, a gay man who is HIV-negative and has recovered from COVID-19, told NBC News that he was turned away from donating blood earlier this week despite having a “robust” level of antibodies in his blood, which he hoped could help develop a treatment for people who are still fighting the virus.
The language around gender employed by the FDA in its donation guidelines likely does not fully encapsulate everyone impacted by the restrictions. Transgender people are allowed to self-identify their gender, but they must choose between binary options. On their website, the Red Cross notes that they understand that "selecting either male or female may not align with how some individuals identify," but the FDA requires that donors select one of the two.
In March, GLAAD released a petition calling for the ban to be lifted, and it has received over 20,000 signatures. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, calling the ban "antiquated" and said it "is not based on current science, stigmatizes the LGBTQIA+ community, and undermines crucial efforts to increase the nation's blood supply as the United States grapples with the coronavirus crisis."
LGBTQ Americans can hold their heads up today and know that our voices will always triumph over discrimination,” GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis said in a press release. "This is a victory for all of us who raised our collective voices against the discriminatory ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.”
The FDA noted that they expect that the new recommendations “will continue to apply outside the context of the current public health emergency” and they plan to revise and replace the guidelines within 60 days of the end of the coronavirus pandemic. Even still, advocates say these new restrictions aren’t good enough.
“The FDA’s decision to lower the deferral period on men who have sex with men from 12 months to 3 months is a step towards being more in line with science, but remains imperfect,” Ellis said. “We will keep fighting until the deferral period is lifted and gay and bi men, and all LGBTQ people, are treated equal to others.

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