Change in donor policy could end stigma for LGBTQ Americans, increase blood supply


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering updating its blood donation policy, which currently places restrictions on blood donations from sexually active gay and bisexual men.

Public health experts and advocates are saying the possible change could help in more ways than one.  Some are going so far as to say that relaxing restrictions helps battle stigma for the LGBTQ community, plus it could help address future blood shortages.

Gay and bisexual men are technically allowed to donate blood to the Red Cross. A caveat to this, however, is sexual abstinence.

In 1983, the Federal Food and Drug Administration put guidelines in place that banned any man who had sex with another man since 1977, even once, from donating blood.

The first HIV blood test was developed in 1985, not long after the FDA’s ban was put into place. The tests have greatly grown in accuracy and complexity since then. It was for this reason that the FDA decided to change its guidelines.

The change came in 2018 after years of pressure from the Red Cross, the American Medical Association, and other medical agencies asking for the policy to be more based in current medical data. The FDA, in response, lifted the ban on one condition: a man can’t donate blood if he’s had sex with another man in the past year.

This guideline was amended again in 2021 due to the urgent need for blood across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. The celibacy period was lowered from one year to three months.

The FDA says there is no “specific timeline” for the update because the agency is currently collecting and analyzing data from multiple sources.

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