US eases gay blood ban but policy remains discriminatory

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In response to the Covid-19 crisis, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has relaxed its gay blood ban policy, although it remains problematic.

On Thursday, the FDA said it would reduce the deferral period for men who have sex with men (MSM) from 12 months to three months. This means they can now donate blood as long as they have not had sex with other men for three months.

Up until 2015, gay and bisexual men were completely barred from donating blood in the US.

The move follows “a significant shortage in the supply of blood in the United States” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen many American blood donors staying at home to avoid spreading the virus.

LGBTQ groups cautiously welcomed the decision but said that it is still based on discriminatory principles instead of a donor’s individual risk.

LGBTQ media lobby group GLAAD described the FDA’s revised policy as “a victory for all of us who spoke out against the discriminatory ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.”

GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis said the decision is “more in line with science, but remains imperfect. We will keep fighting until the deferral period is lifted and gay and bi men, and all LGBTQ people, are treated equal to others.“

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign agreed: “While this change by the FDA is a step in the right direction, it still bases itself in bias rather than science. But creating policy based on identity as opposed to risk is irrational and given the current Covid-19 crisis, it is more critical than ever to prioritise science and facts over fear and bias.”

The FDA’s announcement follows a letter on Wednesday by New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney urging it to revise its ban on MSM from donating blood.

The letter states: “This antiquated policy is not based on current science, stigmatises the LGBTQIA+ community, and undermines crucial efforts to increase the nation’s blood supply as the United States grapples with the coronavirus crisis.”

In South Africa, the anti-gay blood donation policy was changed in 2014. There is now a deferral for anyone, regardless of sexual or gender identity, who has had a new sexual partner in the previous six months from donating blood.

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