With blood drives canceled in the United States due to the outbreak of coronavirus, there is a severe blood shortage. According to the American Red Cross, blood drive cancellations have resulted in 86,000 fewer blood donations. The Red Cross has taken their push to get more donors in their door by putting out a television ad to urge people to donate blood during this difficult period.
While the FDA eased its restrictions on gay and bisexual men being able to donate blood three months after having sex with another man, instead of 12 months, Brazil has completely done away with restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
However, while there are gay and bisexual men who qualify under the new guidelines, they are still rejected from donating blood due to blood centers using the outdated screening guidelines. One of those men is New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, who wrote a letter to the New York Blood Center after being rejected as a donor. Hoylman put a copy of the letter up on his Twitter account.
Last week, I tried to donate blood. I was rejected for being gay.
We’re in the middle of a nationwide blood shortage, but gay and bisexual men are still being treated like second-class citizens.
Here’s my letter to the New York Blood Center urging them to update this policy: pic.twitter.com/TnkpY9IRwm
— Senator Brad Hoylman (@bradhoylman) May 12, 2020
According to the Guardian, Kate Fry, chief executive of America’s Blood Centers, provided an estimate of two to three months for blood centers to update the guidelines for gay and bisexual men who meet the new criteria.
“I am not aware of any blood center who has made any changes yet. It’s just far too early,” Fry said citing various upgrades to training, computer systems, updating questionnaires, etc. takes some time.
Although current testing of donor blood allows for detection of HIV within 7 to 10 days of infection, there is still the stigma of restricting gay and bisexual men from donating blood.
In an article written by Jeremy Wang, GLAAD Campus Ambassador, in 2018, Wang explains:
Still, the premise of the MSM (men who have sex with men) blood donation deferral revolves around the assumption that MSM blood donors have a higher risk of contaminating blood supplies due to disproportionately high rates of HIV as compared to other groups in the U.S. Though this is true, the MSM population is not homogenous. MSM vary widely in the number of sexual partners they have as well as in their engagement with risky sexual behaviors that determine HIV infection risks… At the same time, non MSM donors who have multiple sexual partners are permitted to donate blood. This policy is clearly based on stigma towards MSM rather than on science.
With the rise of convalescent plasma therapy as a possible treatment for people with severe COVID-19, the need for blood donations among those who have recovered from the virus is critical. Yet restrictions on gay and bisexual men in the United States remain in place for no good reason.
The Red Cross released a statement back in November 2019 about encouraging the FDA to reduce the guidelines from twelve months to three months.