UPDATE: The Food and Drug Administration revised its blood donor guidelines amidst COVID-19 pandemic

by Allie Fireel

Photo Credits: JEREMY DANG / AGGIE

UPDATE: The Food and Drug Administration revised its blood donor guidelines on Thursday, significantly easing the restrictions on men who have sex with men. The new guidelines reduce the donation deferral period for sexually active gay and bisexual men from 12 months to three, meaning these otherwise healthy men will now have to abstain from same-sex sexual activity for 90 days before they are eligible to donate blood.

Other 12-month deferral periods have also been shortened under the new guidelines, including those for people who have traveled to areas with certain endemic diseases, those who have engaged in injection drug use and people who have participated in commercial sex work.

I rolled my eyes back into my head recently- as I’m sure did many folks in the queer community when the following was said:

“One thing we should all consider, especially our millennials and Gen Z, is donating blood,” said Surgeon General Jerome Adams at a recent press conference.

So, everyone needs to pitch in and give blood… except of course for those that the Food and Drug Administration call “men who have sex with men” (MSM) who have been all but banned from giving blood since 1983. 

You may pause now and imagine my embittered guffaw, or join me if you like.

Queer Kentucky readers probably already know, but just in case some younger people don’t: since 1983, “men who have sex with men” have been all but banned from giving blood.

AIDS scared the shit out of everyone in the 80’s. There was barely any hard science to rely on, tests for the virus were  new and not super accurate, and a whole bunch of people who got blood transfusions contracted HIV, then AIDS, and died from complications. 

In the scramble to stop this from happening, America’s Food and Drug Administration limited who could give blood, and they fell back on statistics, including one that stated “men who have sex with men” were far more likely to have HIV. 

Let’s leave aside for the moment the rampant homophobia of 1983, as well as the years the government didn’t care how many LGBTQ folks died from complications due to immune-deficiency, and let’s skip over the fact that the implementation of those guidelines had to be based on a self reporting questionnaire. (And don’t even get me started on Ronald fucking Reagan.) 

Leave that all aside, and it was probably a good call to take severe measures to limit who did and didn’t give blood…In 1983. But now the leaps and bounds in HIV detection are mountainous. Every single blood donation is subjected to rigorous testing to make sure it is safe. 

The Red Cross which collects and distributes 40% of all blood used for medical purposes in the United States is explicitly against the defacto ban on gay men giving blood, and says so on their “LGBTQ+ Donors” page. 

“The American Red Cross believes blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation.” 

You can treat yourself to a few more embittered guffaws by reading the entire page on The Red Cross’s website. It’s like a kid showing up to a party with their vicious older sibling saying “Look I am NOT with her. She is the worst.” 

If the general “MSM” guidelines seem myopic, bigoted and bigoted, the FDA guidelines around the trans, non-binary, gender fluid and intersex Americans are abritrary and useless. 

“In the context of the donor history questionnaire, FDA recommends that male or female gender be taken to be self-identified and self-reported.” 

Okay, the self reported nature of the questionnaire ipso facto recognizing some peoples gender instead of insisting that they use their assigned birth gender, but since one has to choose either male or female, a whole lot of non-binary and gender fluid people have to pick an answer that is untrue.  This so starkly illustrates that even though there are statistics that suggests “men who have sex with men” are more likely to have HIV, these statistics are not using data collection methods that respond to reality.

So in case I haven’t been clear; Dear FDA. Cut it the fuck out. Your homophobia is killing people. 

I should mention as a non-binary queer and an “other” on the sexuality-o-meter, I’ve been married to a cis-woman for over a decade. I’ve actually legally been able to give blood since 2015, when the FDA changed guidelines to state that “MSM” who haven’t “SM”d in the last 12 months can donate blood.

But before that law changed, I had my own personal policy and guideline; Lie my ass off.

Walk into a blood donation center and proudly declare via questionnaire that I am not an “MSM,” and never have been. 

By doing so I give an O positive person somewhere the chance to go on living. I invite my queer sibs to join me in this act, but I also understand why lying to the fereral government and essentially stepping back into the closet is unacceptable for many in my community.

But, until the FDA finally gets its head out of its ass, I sleep soundly knowing that most if not all of the people whose life I’ve saved in the past 22 years haven’t given even a tiny percentage of a single good god damn how many dicks have been in my mouth.   

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