‘Gay Blood Drives’ Put Pressure on FDA to Lift Donor Ban

epa04255377 A Filipino facilitator from the Red Cross holds a bag of donated blood inside a mall, on World Blood Donor Day in Manila, Philippines, 14 June 2014. World Blood Donor Day is celebrated annually on 14 June to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and to thank blood donors. 'Safe blood for saving mothers' is the World Blood Donor Day campaign motto for 2014. EPA/RITCHIE B. TONGO
Ritchie B. Tongo/ EPA

On Friday, pairs of people will enter Boston’s City Hall for a blood drive, but only one person per duo will be allowed to donate.

Why? Since 1983, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned gay and bisexual men from donating blood. Activists are lobbying lawmakers to lift the ban by holding special blood drives across the country on July 11.

At the blood drives, organized by the National Gay Blood Drive, gay and bisexual men are asked to bring an “ally”—someone who is allowed to give blood—to donate in their place.

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“We want the FDA to see how our community can benefit the nation’s blood supply, but also see how much we can contribute even when we are banned,” said Ryan James Yezak, who founded the National Gay Blood Drive last year.

The FDA first implemented the ban during the height of the AIDS crisis in the United States. According to the FDA website, men who have had sex with other men (MSM) any time since 1977 are at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B, and other infections transmittable by blood transfusion.

Yezak argues that the policy is outdated, stigmatizing, and prevents otherwise eligible donors from contributing to the nation’s blood supply. “We are calling on the FDA to change its policy so that it instead focuses on sexual behavior and individual risk,” rather than sexual orientation, he said.

The FDA holds that their policy is not discriminatory, and is based solely on studies of disease transmission:

FDA’s deferral policy is based on the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation.

The FDA ban only applies to men: women who identify as lesbian or bisexual are still allowed to donate.

According to the Red Cross, more than 41,000 blood donations are needed every day. Put another way, every two seconds someone in the US needs blood. And while an estimated 38 percent of the US population is eligible to donate, less than 10 percent actually do each year.

Over 60 cities, including Boston, are participating in this year’s gay blood drive. Organizers are also collecting signatures for a White House petition to change the FDA ban.

Boston’s Gay Blood Drive will take place on Friday, July 11 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Boston City Hill, Hearing Room 801. More information is available here.