The FDA announced today that the formal ban on “gay blood” for donations has finally been lifted.
The ban on blood donations from “men who have sex with men” (MSM) was put into place during the height of the HIV / AIDS scare, where the higher prevalence of HIV / AIDS in the gay community led the FDA to issuing a blanket ban on their blood donations. While that ban was issued in a time where there were no reliable tests for the virus, that has since changed. Despite that, until now, the ban officially continued to hold, even as blood banks fall into short supply.
While the FDA has ended the blanket ban on donations, it has instated an insane caveat: any gay donor must have been celibate for a year prior to giving blood.
But HIV / AIDs is not a “gay disease.” It does not spread based on sexual orientation, it spreads based on whether one is having safer sex or not. When donating blood, heterosexuals are not expected to explain their sexual activity, or how safe their sex has been over the last year. Maybe instead of asking people if they are gay, we should ask people about their sexual practices across the board? Indeed, at this moment, we don’t even ask people if they have had sex with injection drug users – which is another huge risk group for STIs. We certainly are selective with who we interrogate.
When talking about our blood supply there are reasons to be cautious. We all want to have peace of mind when we get a transfusion, but there are countless diseases that are more prolific among specific demographical lines. If we followed the train of logic behind banning gay men from giving blood to its rational end, we would end up banning almost every demographic — including African Americans and American Indians — from making blood donations. Once again, the problem of ALL sexually transmitted infections has nothing to do with demographic groups, and everything to do with the dissemination of information that leads to safer sex practices.
This FDA move is a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.