In the wake of Pulse, LGBTQ groups and Congress urge the FDA to lift the ban on blood donation from queer men

One love, one blood

In the wake of Pulse, LGBTQ groups and Congress urge the FDA to lift the ban on blood donation from queer men
Graphic by Chris Tobar Rodriguez

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Kirkland says every week, they have a couple of donors they have to call back and inform them that their blood tested positive on their screening tests for HIV and they should be tested.

"If someone is sick, they need to know," he says. "The whole purpose of the questionnaire is it's the first line of defense in keeping the blood safe."

Opponents of the deferral against queer men point to a study published in the Columbia Medical Review last year that says the updated policy "is as discriminatory as the lifetime ban and will not significantly increase the number of eligible donors. A shift away from a categorical and unnecessary ban towards a systematic and scientifically based series of tests and screenings that focus on indicators of risky sex would grow America's pool of blood donors without increasing the risk of transfusion-related transmission of HIV."

On a call last week with U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, and Jared Polis, D-Colorado, along with the National Gay Blood Drive, the advocates argued the deferral should be based on sexual behavior, not on sexual orientation, because it turns away millions of potential donors.

"The gender of one's partner has nothing to do with whether one is engaged in risky behavior or not," says Polis, the first openly gay parent in Congress. "It's high time for this outdated and discriminatory policy to end, and I'm confident with such broad-spread support among both the American public as well as members of Congress, the FDA will be moved to look at the science that shows, in fact, that there's nothing inherently different about the blood of gay or bisexual Americans."

Grayson, who represents Orlando, called donating blood after a tragedy a form of solidarity and citizenship.

"We can't say that we have first-class citizens and second-class citizens," he says. "We can't say some people can give blood and other people can't based upon their sexual orientation or anything like that. ... In one location, we had two blocks that had to be cordoned off because the line was that long – a line two blocks long in the rain of people anxious to give blood that day. And that's a recognition of the impulse we all feel in times of tragedy to help, and no one should be turned away in those kinds of circumstances."

Bob Poe, a candidate for Florida's 10th Congressional District who recently came out as HIV-positive, says aside from stigmatizing all LGBTQ people, the deferrals contribute to the stigma of people living with HIV. (Even today, some people still don't realize that carrying the virus is not the same as having AIDS.)

"It's time to allow people who are able to make their contribution in society," he says. "Lifting the ban doesn't affect me personally, but I know many people who really wanted to do their part that day and couldn't, but brought water and food to people instead. There's absolutely no reason to continue this ban, because all it does is limit the supply and stigmatize LGBTQ people."

Mauss says he hopes people will recognize the deferral as a policy that needs to be challenged as a discriminatory practice.

"I've had enough time to come to terms with it, and I understand why it was initially enacted because people were terrified," he says. "But I don't understand why it's still there in 2016."

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