Lift Blood-Donor Ban for Gay Men, Democrats Urge

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Blood is blood, gay or straight, Democratic lawmakers insisted Tuesday as they pressed the Food and Drug Administration to end the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
     The issue drew national attention on Sunday after Omar Mateen, 29, opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 and injuring 53.
     The crisis propelled Florida blood-donation centers to issue urgent calls for donors, which the public quickly heeded.
     One obstacle emerged, however, in the shape of FDA guidelines that prevent gay and bisexual men from donating blood without 12 months of abstinence first.
     “In the wake of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history and the worst attack ever on the LGBT community, thousands of gay men rushed to blood donation centers to support the victims in Orlando – and far too many of them were turned away due to the FDA’s outdated and discriminatory blood ban policy,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., during a press conference.
     “The cruel irony of this deferral policy is personified by this particular terrorist attack, where the victims were targeted for being members of the LGBT community and the gay and bisexual men who wanted to donate blood for those in need were banned from doing so,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois.
     Quigley recently penned a letter to FDA commissioner Robert Califf asking the agency to formulate a blood donation questionnaire that reflects “risk-based behaviors as opposed to sexual orientation.”
     This is not a new issue for Quigley, who has been urging the FDA to reform blood donor requirements since 2009.
     Last September, the FDA implemented the current 12-month deferral in place of the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men it had enacted at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
     Congress had pressured the FDA to lift the lifetime ban based on increased scientific knowledge of how AIDS is transmitted.
     Quigley, along with Wasserman Schultz and Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee from California, Jared Polis and Dianne DeGette from Colorado, and Alcee Hastings from Florida are joining forces to ask the agency to eliminate the deferral period and base its requirements on scientifically-supported risk factors instead of sexual orientation.
     “Healthy gay and bisexual men who practice safe sex continue to be banned while heterosexuals who do not practice safe sex are still allowed to donate blood,” Quigley said.
     Lee, a cofounder and vice chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, said the FDA policy is driven by fear, and is not grounded in science.
     “It’s really, quite frankly, an insult to our LGBT brothers and sisters,” Lee said. “It stigmatizes and stereotypes this community. It’s not based on evidence or science, and it puts people’s health in jeopardy for no good reason.
     “We cannot wait any longer to fix this, we must act now,” she added.
     The group of lawmakers said they would not pursue legislation related to the issue because it would take too long. The FDA has the ability to act on this immediately, they claim.

%d bloggers like this: