'We need every donor.' FDA loosens rules to allow more gay men to donate amid blood shortage

Akilah Davis Image
Thursday, May 11, 2023
FDA loosens rules to allow more gay men to donate blood
The guidelines do away with a requirement that men who have sex with men abstain from sex for three months prior to giving blood

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- For Vance Haywood, the FDA's announcement signals a major breakthrough that's kept him from donating blood and potentially saving lives. It takes him on a trip down memory lane that isn't a good one.

"This started in high school. Everybody could donate blood, but I could not," he said. "It certainly is discriminatory. It just makes you feel like something is wrong with you. Something dirty or unclean."

For many years, he and other gay men faced a lifetime ban on donating blood. The FDA changed its policy again to allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood three months after their last sexual encounter. It's something medical experts say dates back to the 1980s aids epidemic.

"Fear of the blood supply is not safe became a very important public health directive. How do we fix it? The biggest way to fix it was to eliminate high-risk populations where this virus was present," said Dr. Nick Bandarenko, medical director of transfusion services at Duke Hospital.

The FDA announced Thursday that all blood donors will be asked the same set of questions under its new risk-based policy. According to Bandarenko, this opens the door for more donors, which he believes could help the national blood shortage.

"We need every donor. This allows us to open up the blood supply chain to marginalized populations. It also allows us to assess risks more accurately for all people whether they identify as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual," he said.

Haywood believes the FDA had it wrong for years, but the new announcement signals a step forward.

"This is certainly a bit of a win as we continue to face discrimination from so many other spaces and in other ways," he said. "We make decisions based out of fear and overstep in many cases and this is one of those cases. There was nothing to say that it was any more dangerous for me to donate blood than anybody else."

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD issued this statement about the new policy: "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."


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