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Activists Organize First-Ever Gay Blood Drive to Challenge FDA Ban

Toby Talbot
AP Photo

Activists across the nation are hosting the first-ever gay blood drive today in an effort to raise the ban on blood donations by gay and bisexual men.

Intravenous drug users can donate blood after a one-year waiting period, so why can’t gay and bisexual men? That’s a question that baffles activists and scientists alike. Since 1977, the Food and Drug Administration has mandated that blood donation centers ask prospective male donors if they’ve had sex with a man. If the answer is yes, the man is deferred, meaning he’s not allowed to donate blood—ever. 

David Larsen with the Puget Sound Blood Center says 30 years ago, when AIDS was emerging, the measure was valid. But things have changed. 

“We’ve been on the record for a number of years in favor of modifying the deferral to something more aligned with science,” he said.

Some European countries and Canada have reduced deferrals to one or two years for gay and bisexual men, and the American Medical Association has called for changes to the FDA’s policy and the current “discriminatory” practice. 

Larsen agrees the issue is not just one of modern science, but also of equity.

“Other people can be exposed to HIV through intravenous drug use and other ways. And we would agree that no matter what the risky behavior is, the deferral period for giving blood should be the same for all of that,” Larsen said.

The Puget Sound Blood Center says every unit of blood collected is tested for HIV and many other blood-born infections. Blood donation during the summer is especially important since the supply tends to shrink.