More than 500 medical professionals have signed an open letter calling on the US to scrap the ban on gay and bi men giving blood.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced revised policies for blood donations from GBT+ men in which the time period will be reduced from 12 months to 3 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
GBT+ men had previously been restricted from donating blood until after a 12 month period of abstaining from sex. On Thursday, April 2, the FDA reduced the time period due to concerns around a drop in the country’s blood supply.
In the open letter, they “call on the FDA to reverse its unscientific and discriminatory ban against men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood in favour of risk-based screening”.
Risk-based screening refers to a process where potential donors are asked about their activities and if this includes risky sex, rather than excluding all gay and bi men.
This isn't enough. At a time when we are seeing a severe blood shortage in our country, we must allow all healthy Americans to donate, including gay and bisexual men.
The FDA must fully end its discriminatory policy.https://t.co/DIfrnSwxYH
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 2, 2020
The letter also notes that “the FDA’s recent decision to shorten the prohibition window to three months is a step in the right direction, [but] it does not go far enough in reversing the unscientific ban”.
Signatories include many leading figures in hospitals and universities across the US including Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins, Columbia University and Duke University.
Speaking following the 3-month abstinence announcement, President and CEO of LGBT+ advocacy group GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis highlighted that there is still work to be done:
“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. We will keep fighting until the deferral period is lifted and gay and bi men, and all LGBTQ people, are treated equally to others.”
In January 2017, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service lifted the lifelong blood donation ban on GBT+ people. It was replaced with the implementation of a one-year deferral period.
As a result of the deferral system, GBT+ people were denied access to donating blood 70 times throughout the last two years. During 57 of these rejections, they were told to wait another 12 months. 13 refusals were followed by a queer person receiving a lifelong ban from further donations.
Activist Tomás Heneghan has previously critiqued the changes to blood donation laws for GBT+ people, stating it has “certainly not gone far enough.” He said, “I found myself in the High Court as a 23 year-old, fighting the state simply to be able to perform my civic duty and engage in this extremely important act to help improve and save lives.”
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