Still Restrictive

FDA Eases Restrictions on Queer Men Donating Blood, but There’s Still a Catch

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an ease in blood donation policies, there’s still a restriction looming over queer men looking to donate blood. 

On Thursday the FDA announced updates to their blood donation policy in a news release. In an effort to expand blood donations, the FDA proclaimed that the federal agency will implement a series of individual risk-based questions to screen each potential donor, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. Consequently, this should expand the pool of blood donors to include more queer men, as this update allows queer men who are in a monogamous relationship with another man to no longer refrain from sex in order to be a blood donor. 

“The implementation of these recommendations will represent a significant milestone for the agency and the LGBTQI+ community,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in the news release.

But that doesn’t include non-monogamous counterparts, due to the last blood donor restriction remaining. The catch is that individuals who have had anal sex with a new sexual partner, or more than one, within the last three months will be asked to refrain from donating blood. 

For queer men, the history of donating blood has a troubled past. Originally, queer men were not allowed to donate blood. The restriction dated back to the early onslaught of the AIDS epidemic. The reasoning behind the move was to protect the donor blood supply from HIV. As time passed, restrictions have lifted in various ways. 

Prior to this recent update, the latest change to the restrictions came in 2020. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a national blood donor shortage. Since March 2020, there has been an overall 10% decline in blood donorship. Additionally, there has been a 62% drop in blood drives within schools and universities. Consequently, blood donor guidelines were relaxed, allowing men who have sex with men to donate blood after a three-month period of abstinence from sex with other men. 

While the changes to policy continue to happen, there are still restrictions in place each time there’s an update to guidelines. Blood banks routinely test blood donations for HIV, but having any bit of restriction in place aimed at queer men interested in donating blood is still a discriminatory policy that consequently takes away from blood donorship pools. 

LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations continue to call this out. In a statement and on Twitter, GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis praised the update, but also called out the need to remove stigma from queer men donating blood – especially around those who use PrEP. 

“The FDA’s decision to follow science and issue new recommendations for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, who selflessly donate blood to help save lives, signals the beginning of the end of a dark and discriminatory past rooted in fear and homophobia,” said Ellis in her statement. “While today’s guidance is an important step in the right direction, the deferral period for individuals on PrEP, an FDA-approved drug proven to prevent HIV acquisition, continues to erect barriers to LGBTQ blood donors.”

While the update is a step in the right direction, more changes will need to be made before there is an equal opportunity for queer men to donate blood successfully. 

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