Gay? Then You Can't Give Blood

Unless you’re a gay man, January is National Blood Donor Month.

The FDA still has not budged on their ban on blood donations from gay men.

“Men who have had sex with other men (MSM), at any time since 1977 (the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States) are currently deferred as blood donors.”

“This is because MSM are, as a group, at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion.”

“Men who have had sex with men since 1977 have an HIV prevalence (the total number of cases of a disease that are present in a population at a specific point in time) 60 times higher than the general population, 800 times higher than first time blood donors and 8000 times higher than repeat blood donors (American Red Cross).”

What about men who have had a low number of partners, practice safe sex, or who are currently in monogamous relationships?

It doesn’t matter according to the FDA.

Although having a low number of partners is known to decrease the risk of HIV infection, there is no way to confirm the number of partners or sexual patterns.

“That's a damn shame” according to Ronnie Polaneczky of the Philadelphia Daily News… “Our need for blood far exceeds what the American Red Cross Penn-Jersey Region is able to collect. “

Despite 23 Bloodmobile events held here daily, and multiple donations made at eight fixed-site collection centers, last year we still had to import nearly 200,000 additional units of blood from outside the area to meet our densely populated region's need for that life-saving red stuff.

At least we're not the only people turning away gay male donors.

Turns out, they're not wanted anywhere in this country.

"We get calls from gay men all the time who are angry when they find out they're not allowed to donate," says Chris Englerth, marketing manager for the American Red Cross Penn-Jersey Region. "We tell them that we think it's wrong, too. But we don't make the rules" says Polaneczky.

"We've been fighting this for years," says Mark Segal, editor of the Philadelphia Gay News.

"If you're a gay male who has been in a monogamous relationship for 30 years, you're still considered a greater risk [to the blood pool] than if you're a promiscuous heterosexual who has had hundreds of partners for 30 years.

"Things have changed, but the FDA hasn't changed with the times."

"My frustration with the "no gay men" policy is not even one of equal rights says David Hauslaib of QUEERTY IN-DEPTH.

“I make this case not because I'm being treated as a different class of citizen (which I am) or because I want the same ability to save others' lives as anybody else (which I do). Rather, it's because this policy is outdated, makes less and less sense as each day passes, and continues to stigmatize gay men as walking AIDS incubators.”

Back in 2006, the FDA was asked to change their decision to out-law gay men from donating blood, because blood testing had become so robust — exposure to HIV can now be detected within 10 to 21 days, but the organization is standing by it’s permanent ban.

Dr. Steven Kleinman, senior medical adviser of the American Association of Blood Banks, is frustrated by the FDA’s decision.

"We think the year-long ban is more than reasonable," says Kleinman.

"The FDA doesn't. We find their policy discriminatory, scientifically marginal and unfair."

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