FDA revises its ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood following pressure from GLAAD, medical professionals, elected officials, LGBTQ Americans, and allies

Today, GLAAD responded to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) revised recommendations on gay and bisexual men, and other LGBTQ people, from donating blood by reducing the deferral period from 12 months to 3 months.

This decision follows GLAAD’s continued campaign for the FDA to lift its ban that prevents gay and bisexual men, as well as others in the LGBTQ community, from donating blood and plasma. GLAAD launched a petition in March calling for an end to the current ban following U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams’ urgent call for donations during the COVID-19 crisis. The petition has over 20,000 signatures and elected officials including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Kamala Harris have spoken out.

The revised recommendations were posted on the FDA site this morning. An email from the FDA today also stated: “Based on our evaluation of the totality of the scientific evidence available, we are revising the 2015 recommendations for reducing the risk of HIV transmission by blood products including: For male donors who would have been deferred for having sex with another man; the agency is changing the recommended deferral period from 12 months to 3 months.” This change will also apply to female donors who would have been deferred for having sex with a man who had sex with another man.

The FDA also wrote: “To help address this critical need and increase the number of donations, the FDA is announcing today that based on recently completed studies and epidemiologic data, we have concluded that the current policies regarding the eligibility of certain donors can be modified without compromising the safety of the blood supply.  The policy changes that we are announcing for immediate implementation are set out in three guidance documents and are expected to remain in place after the COVID-19 public health emergency ends.”

“LGBTQ Americans can hold their heads up today and know that our voices will always triumph over discrimination,” said GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis. "This is a victory for all of us who spoke out against the discriminatory ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood. The FDA’s decision to lower the deferral period on men who have sex with men from 12 months to 3 months is a step towards being 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.“

Yesterday, the FDA issued a response via a statement to media outlets noting: “At this time, FDA's recommendations regarding blood donor deferral for men who have sex with men have not changed, but we are actively considering the situation as the outbreak progresses.” Last week, the FDA issued guidelines stating that only people eligible to donate blood are eligible to donate plasma.

On Wednesday, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney penned a letter calling on the FDA to revise its ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood. The letter reads, in part: “This antiquated policy is not based on current science, stigmatizes the LGBTQIA+ community, and undermines crucial efforts to increase the nation’s blood supply as the United States grapples with the coronavirus crisis." The letter also states: “In light of the potential long-term impacts the coronavirus outbreak may have on the nation’s blood supply, we urge FDA to act swiftly in revising its policy so every person who can safely donate blood in the United States has the opportunity to do so.” Read the full letter here.

Congressman Chris Pappas (NH), who serves as a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, Congressman Mike Quigley (IL), and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA) sent a letter with 30 of their colleagues calling on the FDA to "reassess an outdated and discriminatory policy that blocks members of the LGBTQ community from donating blood." Rep. Greg Stanton (AZ) also called on the Trump Administration to take action. 

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin led a group of Senators, including Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Tammy Duckworth, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and more, in releasing a letter to FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn that raises concerns about the FDA’s discriminatory blood donation policies and urges the administration to make the necessary changes to help save lives. Read the full letter here.

Earlier this week, GLAAD contacted BioLife Plasma Services, an industry leader in the collection of high-quality plasma, and a spokesperson confirmed to GLAAD that the FDA’s 12-month deferral policy for blood donations from men who have sex with men also applies to plasma donations. Last week, the FDA issued guidelines stating that only people eligible to donate blood are eligible to donate plasma, noting: “COVID-19 convalescent plasma must only be collected from recovered individuals if they are eligible to donate blood.” According to The Atlantic, “the idea of using plasma from survivors, also known as convalescent-plasma therapy, dates back to the late 19th century” and is now being explored as a potential way to treat ill COVID-19 patients. Over the weekend, Houston Medical was the first hospital to try out this potential treatment on a patient.

Leading medical organizations have debunked the ban on blood donations for years. The American Public Health Association has stated that the current ban “is not based in science but appears to be modeled after other countries’ choices and fears.” The American Red Cross has also spoken out, noting that “blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation.” Years ago, the American Medical Association said, “the lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science.” A 2014 study by the Williams Institute estimated that if the ban were to be lifted, an additional 360,000 men would likely donate, which could help save the lives of more than a million people.

GLAAD’s petition urging the FDA to lift the ban has now garnered over 20,000 signatures. Sam Smith (via IG story), Chasten Buttigieg, Michelle Visage (RuPaul’s Drag Race), Daniel Franzese (Mean Girls), Peppermint (RuPaul’s Drag Race), Margaret Cho, Nico Tortorella (Younger), Josh Feldman (This Close), and Johnny Sibilly (Pose) have also spoken out have helped to share GLAAD’s petition on social media.

Sign the petition here.