The Red Cross will now accept blood donations from gay and bisexual men.
The policy change follows federal approval from the Food and Drug Administration. As of Aug, 7, the organization lifted its rule prohibiting certain people from donating based on sexual orientation.
“The Red Cross is committed to achieving an inclusive blood donation process that treats all potential donors with equality and respect, and ensures a safe, sufficient blood supply is readily available for patients in need,” the Red Cross said in a press release on Aug. 2, 2023. “This historic change in approach to donor eligibility is significant progress, resulting in a blood donation process that is more inclusive than ever before. The Red Cross celebrates the FDA’s elimination of blood donation policies based on sexual orientation.”
Men who have sex with other men were required to abstain from sexual activity for 90 days to be eligible to give blood. The rule was introduced in the 1980s to minimize the risk of bloodborne diseases such as AIDS, HIV or hepatitis. The Human Rights Campaign noted that gay and bisexual men “have higher incidence of disease” and that blood screenings were not entirely reliable.
“Every donated unit of blood undergoes a rigorous series of tests to determine any possible presence of HIV, hepatitis, syphilis and other blood-borne disease,” said the HRC. “None of these tests, however, are 100 percent accurate, and they can produce faulty results.”
The policy has been altered on several occasions in recent history. The FDA downgraded a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay or bisexual men to a one-year deferral in December 2015. The deferral period was reduced to three months in April 2020.
The FDA supported efforts to change the policy, which was reviewed and finalized in May of 2023.
“Under the final guidance issued today, all prospective blood donors will answer a series of individual, risk-based questions to determine eligibility,” said the FDA in its statement. “All prospective donors who report having a new sexual partner, or more than one sexual partner in the past three months, and anal sex in the past three months, would be deferred to reduce the likelihood of donations by individuals with new or recent HIV infection who may be in the window period for detection of HIV by nucleic acid testing.”
The FDA also requires the deferral of donations from anyone taking medication to treat or prevent HIV.
The rule has been denounced as discriminatory and no longer necessary following advancements in blood screening technology.
The HRC said the policy “does not treat persons with like risks in a similar way.”
“For example, a man who has had protected oral sex with another man once in the 3 months currently barred from donating blood. Yet a woman who has had unprotected sex with multiple partners over the same time frame with no knowledge of their personal histories remains in the donor pool,” said the organization.
Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and 21 other senators cosigned a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and FDA acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock in 2022 calling for the end of the deferral requirement.
“Any policy that continues to categorically single out the LGBTQ+ community is discriminatory and wrong. Given advances in blood screening and safety technology, a time-based policy for gay and bisexual men is not scientifically sound, continues to effectively exclude an entire group of people, and does not meet the urgent demands of the moment,” wrote the coalition, per NBC News.