Encourage the FDA to Review Blood Donation Policies that discriminate against Gay & Bi men.
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The FDA's Current Guidance on Blood Donations for Gay and Bi-Sexual men is discriminatory and arbitrary leaving countless healthy donors unable to do so.
It needs to be reviewed and updated to reflect current science and HIV testing capabilities to determine one individual donor's risk to the donor pool.
And each unit of blood donated in the U.S. is routinely screened for various infectious disease pathogens, including five transfusion–transmitted viruses, using nine laboratory tests which makes the restrictions on donations by gay and bi men unnecessary and discriminatory.
Worthless is how I felt after I went to donate blood in October of 2015 shortly after I found out that I have Fatty Liver-Disease, a disease that often requires a liver transplant later in life. I wanted to pay it forward in case I would need a transplant and the accompanying blood transfusions, but I was turned away. At the time, I was unaware of the FDA’s guidance that indefinitely deferred gay & bi-sexual men, or men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood. I felt as if I was a 2nd class citizen - as if my blood was not worth anything.
Outraged by this policy, I began researching the issue and founded the “Blood is Blood” movement. On December 14th, 2015 I planned a community rally in Buffalo, N.Y. with Congressman Brian Higgins, to push for a change to the policy that is discriminatory towards gay & bi-sexual men - leaving countless healthy donors unable to do so. Shortly after the Community Rally, in January 2016, the FDA released an updated guidance on this policy, replacing the lifelong ban with a 12-month deferral period. The revised guidance removed the blanket discrimination and merely applied a bandage. The revised guidance is still discriminatory towards the gay & bi-sexual community and while a step in the right direction it was not enough.
In June 2016, my heart (like many) was stricken by the hate and violence of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. I, like many, wanted to help my community and donate blood. People flooded blood banks all over the country to donate lifesaving blood to help those injured. While many gay & bi-sexual men were unaware of the FDA policy, they showed up to to donate and were turned away. At this point, I knew that something had to change. We cannot keep having this conversation after every mass shooting or disaster about how this policy leaves countless healthy donors unable to save lives.
I had to act, so I contacted the American Red Cross in Buffalo, NY and organized the First Gay Alliance Blood drive that took place on July 27th, 2016 with the mission to raise awareness and spark conversation about this absurd policy. I encouraged men whom were prevented from donating (due to being gay or bi-sexual) to bring a friend to donated on their behalf, as this way lives can still be saved. I started this movement to save lives and affect change. That day was amazing as 53 donors came forth and helped save over 159 lives. I decided to make this an annual event and at the 2nd annual Gay Alliance Blood drive on July 26th, 2017,
I vowed a year of celibacy so I could become a blood donor in 2018.
Abstaining from sex for a year would be difficult, but I did so to spark a community conversation about the FDAs antiquated guidance.. Last month, my year of celibacy came to end and I proudly donated blood at the 3rd Annual Gay Alliance Blood Drive - a milestone for me, an accomplishment at least It felt like at the time, after all, I donated blood, right?
It was not that simple; I soon realized that nothing had changed. I was still that gay man whose blood was not good enough unless I stopped living my life. My year abstaining from sex was very difficult. There was many nights I felt depressed and closed off from the world, afraid that I would put myself in a situation that would ruin my year celibacy. I cut off contact with men whom I had feelings for, essentially putting my life on hold. While I do not regret my year of celibacy, with the FDA’s guidance that requires gay & bi-sexual men to abstain from sex for 12 months is detrimental to the mental health of the gay & bi-sexual community.
In 2016, the FDA said they would continually review this policy, since then, nothing has changed. The policy should be based on one individual donor risks based on current science. The deferral period should be no longer than 30 days. Current testing technology enables an HIV infection to be detected in donated blood within several weeks of exposure. Even those subjected to the deferral period should be screened by their individual sexual history, not discriminated towards because they belong to one group. This is similar to the policy adopted in Italy in 2001 where donors are assessed individually with questionnaires and face-to-face interviews. Currently, The Williams Institute calculates that there could be at least an additional 600,000 MSM potential - saving over 1,800,000 lives annually if there was no 12 month deferral period. At the local Gay Alliance Blood Drives I have planned, there would have had an additional 134 donors, saving an estimated 402 lives! I encourage you to do your part by contacting local state and federal officials about this antiquated policy and learn more about “Blood is Blood” and our mission at http://bloodisblood.us
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