Metro Weekly

Twitter halts office blood drives until gay men can donate

Blood bags

Social media giant Twitter has adopted an “All for one, and one for all” policy when it comes to donating blood. The social network won’t be holding any more blood drives until all of its employees — including gay and bisexual men — are allowed to donate.

Twitter spokeswoman Natalie Miyake told CBS News that the company would not hold any more blood donation drives until the FDA adopts a policy based on behavioral risk factors, rather than identity. Under current policy, men who have had sex with men — even once — since 1977 are prohibited from donating blood.

But medical experts have said that a lifetime deferral is not scientifically warranted, which has prompted the FDA to investigate the possibility of lifting the ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) and changing it to a one-year deferral period.

The current FDA policy dates back to 1985, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and was instituted to ensure that the blood supply remained safe. MSM and groups considered at higher-risk of HIV and other blood-borne diseases — such as commercial sex workers and intravenous drug users, as well as women who have ever had sex with a gay or bisexual man — were indefinitely deferred. Under the new one-year deferral period, any man who engages in sex with another man would only be allowed to donate after a full year of celibacy.

Twitter has previously spoken out against the blood ban and advocated for a behavioral-based approach to screening potential donors. In July, Vice President of Global Policy Colin Crowell wrote a letter to the FDA expressing “deep concerns that both the current and proposed regulations restricting blood donations by men who have sex with men unreasonably removes viable donors from the process and discourages ethical companies from supporting and participating in blood drives.” He also said that the policies create a conflict for companies who have adopted nondiscrimination employment policies.

Miyake said that the issue came to the company’s attention a year ago when an employee was turned away when trying to give blood. According to Crowell, Twitter employees have donated blood at a level three times the average of a normal blood drive, but many expressed concern over the exclusion of gay and bisexual men.

“We are committed to making Twitter a place where everyone feels valued and will not sponsor onsite activities that discriminate against our employees,” Miyake told CBS.

A 2014 report from the Williams Institute, an LGBT-related policy think tank at UCLA, estimated that if the current U.S. ban were lifted, an estimated 360,600 men would likely donate 615,300 additional pints of blood each year. The total blood supply in the United State would then increase by 2 to 4 percent overall, and could save the lives of more than a million people. If the policy were changed to a one-year deferral period and MSM who had not had sexual contact with another man in the past year were allowed to donate, the policy would still net 185,000 additional donors who could donate 317,000 additional pints of blood each year.

The United Kingdom adopted a one-year deferral period for all MSM who wish to donate blood in 2011. Recently, the Tory-led government indicated a willingness to re-examine the policy and consider a smaller deferral period that was based on scientific research and consensus that would maintain the safety of the blood supply.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com