Ending LGBTQ+ Discrimination in Blood Donations

by 26Health Staff

The Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016 left 49 people dead and more than 50 wounded. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The LGBTQ+ community and its allies rallied to support the victims and survivors, but many gay and bisexual men were barred from blood donations due to outdated FDA donor policies that encourage LGBTQ+ discrimination.

Current FDA policy bans male blood donors who have had sex with other men within the last three months. In 1983 when this policy was put in place, it was in the form of a lifetime ban on gay men. In 2015, this policy was reduced to a year-long deferral, and then to a three-month deferral in 2020. In 1983, there was no way to screen blood for HIV. Today, however, all donated blood is screened, making this policy out of date and unnecessary.

The ADVANCE Study, which is currently being conducted around the country, seeks to modernize the science around blood donation and collect new data to ensure that these outdated policies can be safely overturned. ADVANCE stands for Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility. The study is focused on evaluating alternatives to the blood donor deferral policy prohibiting men who have sex with men from donating within a three month window.

Last year, U.S. Representatives Mike Quigley (IL-5) and Val Demings (FL-10) introduced the Science in Blood Donation Act of 2020. This piece of legislation would require the FDA to revise its “Guidance on Reducing the Risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission (HIV) by Blood and Blood Products” based on an assessment of current testing accuracy and individual risk-based analysis, rather than the broad categorization the FDA currently uses. It would also require the FDA to revise the donor questionnaire based on an individual risk assessment of sexual behaviors, upon which all donors are evaluated equally without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.

In April 2021, Representatives Mike Quigley (IL-5), Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), Adam B. Schiff (CA-28), Barbara Lee (CA-13), and Ritchie Torres (NY-15) led their colleagues in introducing a resolution highlighting the urgent need for equitable, science-based blood donation policies in the United States.

The advancement of the ADVANCE Study is a voluntary move which puts the FDA in compliance with the goals of the Science in Blood Donation Act. Prior to the study’s announcement in December, the FDA had resisted calls to utilize a scientifically based risk assessment. The Science in Blood Donation Act sponsored by Quigley and Demings and the Members’ April 2021 resolution were key steps that encouraged FDA to further reevaluate this outdated policy.

The ADVANCE study tests blood samples from gay or bisexual men, 18 to 39 years of age, who have had sex with another man within the past three months. Participants have their blood drawn and tested, and will be asked to answer questions that determine their individual HIV risk factors. That data is being collected and will be submitted to the FDA for them to use in determining next steps.

A shift in policy will be a win for blood centers and patients in need of blood donations, in addition to serving as a major step in reducing discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

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