July 16, 2013
The first national Gay Blood Drive, held on July 12, aimed to pressure the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into lifting a ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. Ryan James Yezak organized the national blood drive. Yezak is a 26-year-old gay man from Houston who is filming a documentary about discrimination based on sexual orientation. The FDA bans blood and bone marrow donations from any man who has had sex with another man at any time since 1977. According to the FDA, men who have sex with men (MSM) made up 61 percent of new HIV infections in 2010, and although the overall HIV rate was stable from 2008 to 2010, the rate of infection increased 12 percent among MSM while the rate in other populations decreased.
Blood collection agencies screen all donations for specific disqualifying conditions, including HIV, but acknowledge there is a period when individuals could be infected without the disease being detectable in their blood. Dr. James AuBuchon of Puget Sound Blood Center said that he used to support the FDA's ban when HIV tests were less reliable, but now he believes the FDA should change its regulations to allow MSM to donate blood if they have not had sex with a male in the last year. AuBuchon believed that the rationale for the ban had diminished due to improved testing.
Others saw the FDA's current policy as discriminatory. A gay man, who participated in the blood drive and was turned away because of the regulations, contended that the policy kept him from helping others, including his own friends. He cited an incident two years ago when he discovered the policy as he tried to get tested as a bone marrow donor for a friend suffering from a blood disease. The man described how weird he felt having to choose between being honest or helping a friend.
An FDA statement noted that the agency was studying the regulations and would discuss its findings in future public forums.