As the United States experiences record low donations for blood and plasma, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is facing more pressure than ever from lawmakers to change its donor qualifications.
For gay and bisexual men living in the United States, donating blood or plasma can be a difficult task. Most donation centers, like the American Red Cross, will only allow gay and bisexual men to donate if they have remained abstinent from sex for three months, while other centers have enacted 12-month bans on men who have sex with men.
According to the FDA, the reason for such guidelines is an attempt to lower the risk of donors with Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. However, according to data from HIV.gov, the FDA guidelines that single out gay and bisexual men seem to be backed by outdated statistics, and many LGBTQ activist groups believe this is homophobic.
“It’s almost comedic how arbitrary these guidelines are,” said Peter Moosman, the coordinator for the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center at Salt Lake Community College.
Beginning in 1985, as the AIDS pandemic grew, the FDA placed an indefinite ban on gay men donating blood or plasma. In 2015, two decades after AIDS cases peaked in the United States, these rules changed to a 12-month celibacy period.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, caused a 10% nationwide decrease in blood donations as well as a spiking demand for antibody-containing plasma. This incentivized the FDA to lower the celibacy period to three months for men who have sex with men.
Moosman, however, said he sees this change as performative action that turns a blind eye to past discrimination by requiring gay and bisexual men to meet abstinence standards not required by heterosexual donors.
“It’s 100% all for show and is all based on discrimination,” Moosman said. “There is no scientific basis for it. Although they lowered the deferral period to three months, it’s still discriminatory because these regulations still don’t take into account risk factors.”
Sal Trejo, a gay man living in Salt Lake City, also believes that the updated three-month deferral period is still not enough.
“I am on PrEP, which protects me from contracting HIV. So why can’t I donate blood if theoretically, my blood is safer than those not on PrEP? It’s antiquated and homophobic policy,” Trejo said.
PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a medication that reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 99%. According to ABC News, 35% of men who have sex with men are on PrEP.
According to the FDA, all blood donation centers are equipped with an Ortho HVC Elisa test system, an HIV detection machine with a minimum of 95% accuracy.
For more about the FDA regulations, visit the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.