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'Let every American step up to help' | The push to end blood donor bans against gay and bisexual men

During the worst blood shortage in over a decade, U.S. Senators are calling on health officials to reverse bans that keep men who have sex with men from donating.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Led by U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin, a group of 22 Senators called on federal health officials to reverse a ban on eligible blood donors that largely affects gay and bisexual men.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance states men who have sex with men must "Defer for three months from the most recent sexual contact, a man who has had sex with another man during the past three months." The three-month deferral was an update in April 2020, replacing the formal deferral period of 12 months.

In a formal letter to the Commissioner of the FDA and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 13, the Senators urged the FDA to get rid of the deferral altogether, urging officials to "quickly act on the best available science and update its outdated and discriminatory blood donor deferral policies."

"It risks lives when there is a shortage of blood supply," Sen. Baldwin told KARE 11. "We are in the middle of a public health crisis, and on a routine basis people across the country need blood transfusions and blood during surgeries."

Baldwin said it's an issue that she's worked on ever since she was elected to Congress in 1998, having served on multiple health panels in her more than two decades in office. She said making change is more critical than ever.

"We have advanced our knowledge so much more since the HIV/AIDS crisis began in the early 1980s, in terms of being able to have an effective screening of donors as well as effective screening of the blood," she said. "There’s no reason, in science, for having these discriminatory bans."

That's because the Red Cross screens all donors, and according to their donor manual, they also test all blood for HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, and other infections.

Credit: redcrossblood.org

James Darville, who serves as the director of policy and organizing for OutFront Minnesota, said health care has advanced so much, there's no need for these deferrals, which serve as unfair bans on largely the LGBTQ population.

"If they’re already testing the blood, what is the worry?" said Darville. "As a gay man and as someone who works in organizing and someone who has worked in communities that are unfairly judged a lot of the times, it’s kind of just another way to keep us as an "other" category."

RELATED: Red Cross declares 1st national blood crisis; says donations urgently needed

The Red Cross said this is the worst blood shortage in over a decade. Darville said that's exactly why now is more of a reason than ever to make the change.

"We’re talking about a huge swath of Americans who want to help who want to donate, and are actively being blocked from participating in the system that everyone else gets to participate in to further along medical advancement, to help our neighbors out, and just doing a good thing," he said.

Sen. Baldwin said she believes something will have to change fast.

"Review this once again at this time of dire shortage," she said. "Follow the science, not discriminatory policy, and let’s get working on replenishing our nation’s blood supply."

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