Metro Weekly

Congressional Democrats introduce bill to revise FDA blood donation rules for LGBTQ people

Bill would shift donation guidelines from a sexual orientation-based deferral period to an individual risk assessment

blood, fda, gay, lgbtq

Congress members Val Demings and Mike Quigley – Photo: U.S. Congress

A pair of congressional Democrats have introduced legislation that would require the Food and Drug Administration to revise its blood donation restrictions on LGBTQ people, especially gay and bisexual men.

The bill, named the Science in Blood Donation Act of 2020, would require the FDA to revise its guidance on reducing the risk of HIV transmission by blood and blood products by basing it on the “window period” — referring to the time it takes for HIV antibodies to show up in the blood — of the most-up-to-date testing and an “individual risk-based analysis,” reports The Hill.

The act, introduced by U.S. Reps. Val Demings (D-Fla.) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), is a response to the FDA’s recent reduction of the deferral period — the period between the time when a gay or bisexual man last has sex and when they are eligible to donate — from one year to three months.

That change was made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, due to concerns that categorically eliminating gay and bisexual men who had survived the virus from the pool of eligible donors would lead to reductions in antibody-rich plasma needed to fight the disease.

The previous one-year deferral period was introduced by the Obama administration, marking a change from a lifetime ban implemented in the 1980s preventing any sexually active gay or bisexual man from donating blood due to fears of spreading HIV/AIDS.

Even the reduced three-month deferral period has been criticized by some prominent gay men, including Yuval David and Andy Cohen, who have argued the deferral period discriminates against gay men in committed relationships, treating them differently from their heterosexual peers.

“As an executive director of one of the oldest LGBT community centers in the nation and the largest HIV testing site in central Florida, I have witnessed firsthand the current discriminatory laws in action,” George Wallace, the executive director of The LGBT+ Center, said in a statement.

“Through the continuation of enforcement of prohibiting blood donations by sexually active gay and bisexual men, stigmatization is still front and center and does not reflect the best science available. Modernization of the policy through the Science in Blood Donation Act of 2020 will ensure that the blood supply remains as safe as possible while maximizing the donor pool.”

“Every day, across the United States, donated blood marks the difference between life and death. There is no substitute,” Demings said in a statement. “Yet our country turns away thousands of healthy and willing blood donors based solely on their gender identity and sexual orientation. This policy is based on fear, stigma, and prejudice, not science. Expanding the donor pool by hundreds of thousands of healthy Americans would save lives every day in emergency rooms and hospitals around the country.

“Blood is never at higher demand than in an emergency. Orlando knows the pain of mass shootings, and discriminatory sexual orientation guidelines denied victims’ friends and families the opportunity to donate blood afterward,” Demings, who represents Orlando in Congress, added. “It’s time to move away from these archaic rules and ideologies. When we know better, we should do better. By basing our medicine on science, we can maximize our donor pool while keeping our blood supply safe.”

“Over the course of many years, we have made significant progress in rolling back an indefinite ban on blood donations from MSM, to a 12-month deferral to the current three-month deferral. This is still not enough,” Quigley said in a statement.

“Our work will not be complete until FDA approves a non-discriminatory, science-based policy that properly addresses individual risk assessment, as we’ve seen countries across the world adopt. An arbitrary blanket ban, especially during a crisis, is simply unacceptable.”

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

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