‘New’ FDA blood donor rule relies on old anti-gay stigma, local activists say


Nell Gaither, left, John Carlo, middle, Rafael McDonnell, right


JAMES RUSSELL | Staff Writer

LGBT activists say a new Food and Drug Administration recommendation lifting the lifetime ban on blood donations by gay and bisexual men does not rely on current science but on an outdated stigma against gay and bisexual men.

The FDA on Dec. 23 recommended lifting the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men if those men have refrained from sexual activities with another man for a year.

“It’s great they’re lifting the lifetime ban,” said Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for Resource Center. “It made no sense because we’re in a different time and place.”

But, McDonnell said, the FDA did not go far enough. “We’re only half way there. It’s progress but they could have gone further,” he said.

According to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, new research sparked the FDA to reconsider the ban.

“The FDA has carefully examined and considered the available scientific evidence relevant to its blood donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men. This recommended change … will better align the deferral period with that of other men and women at increased risk for HIV infection.”

But activists said even the revised deferral policy is still rooted in stigma towards the LGBT community.

Ian Thompson, the ACLU’s legislative representative, said in a statement, “This proposal will continue to function as a de facto lifetime ban [for gay and bisexual men]. Criteria for determining blood donor eligibility should be based on science, not outdated, discriminatory stereotypes and assumptions.”

The FDA is the chief regulator of the nation’s the blood supply. It instituted the ban in the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, when little was known about the virus. While the current deferral policy, according to the agency’s website, is not based on sexual orientation, numerous LGBT advocates disagreed with the FDA’s interpretation.

Monogamous same-sex male couples in long-term relationships that practice safe sex are excluded, for instance.

“Merely changing the parameters of this outdated policy does not alter its underlying discriminatory nature, eliminate its negative and stigmatizing effects, nor transform it into a policy based on current scientific and medical knowledge,” said Lambda Legal’s Scott Schoettes, legal senior attorney and director of Lambda Legal’s HIV Project.

Dr. John Carlo, executive director of AIDS Arms, confirms that other measures could be taken that would allow sexually active gay men to donate blood without putting the blood supply at risk.

He noted that numerous scientific advances allow for patients to know as soon as a few days whether or not they have contracted HIV. The only risk is during a 10-day to two-week period after infection, he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 2, 2015.