While the husbands of men wounded in Sunday's Orlando nightclub shooting are crying and praying, they can't easily offer their spouses the one thing so many others can: their blood.
Defying federal policy, Patty Sheehan — Orlando's lesbian city commissioner — announced after the shooting that she was recommending the city temporarily lift the Food and Drug Administration-mandated ban on blood donated from sexually-active gay and bisexual men. In response, Orlando hospitals appear to be welcoming donations from all queer men and transgender women — also included in the FDA ban — but it's still murky whether the federal government will crack down on Sheehan's directive and blood will actually get to the injured.
The Orlando massacre, in a grim coincidence, came two days before the World Health Organization's World Blood Donor Day, observed today. While the mass shooting, the nation's worst, briefly brought the FDA's discriminatory policy to the world's attention, it was quickly forgotten in the barrage of news updates about the Orlando killer and his victims.
Health officials and politicians are hoping to change that by publicly urging the FDA today to finally end its ban on gay and bi men. The current prohibition has been in place since December, when the FDA amended its ban, so now instead of barring any male donors who had sex with men since 1977, the new rules turn away those who haven't had gay sex in 12 months.
For many, that's still an outright ban on any gay or bisexual man, not matter the semantics.
Anthony Hayes of the Gay Men's Health Crisis and FCB Health Medical Director Gilles Herrada are hosting a press conference at 11 a.m. on the steps of New York City Hall, where they, along with other scientists and medical experts, will call for the FDA to stop demanding celibacy from these donors.
GMHC and FCB Health joined together to launch a campaign called the Blood Equality campaign, which will plaster cities with posters that read, "My blood is type O, not type homo" and "My blood is type A, not type gay."
Democratic legislators like Mike Quigley of Illinois, Barbara Lee of California, and out Wisconsin senator Tammy Baldwin also want the FDA to reconsider the ban, which the agency considers imperative to keeping the nation's blood supply free of HIV. The three politicians disagree with the FDA's assertion and jointly released the following statement late on Monday:
“The resiliency of the American people is always magnified after a tragedy, and we are witnessing that compassion as Floridians rally around the people of Orlando, and the local LGBT community, by lining up to donate much needed blood after Sunday’s horrific shooting at Pulse nightclub. However, we find it unacceptable that gay and bisexual men are banned from donating desperately needed blood in response to this tragedy. Blood donations are needed now more than ever, yet gay and bisexual men remain unable to donate blood due to an outdated and discriminatory FDA rule. For years, we have worked through both authorizing and appropriations committees to overturn the FDA's donor referral policy for men who have sex with men. We've made progress; this past year, the FDA reversed a lifetime ban to a 12-month deferral policy. But this revision does not go far enough in ending an outdated policy that is medically and scientifically unwarranted and that perpetuates inaccurate stereotypes. Tragedies like the one we witnessed in the early morning hours on Sunday show how crucial it is for FDA to develop better blood donor policies that are based on science and on individual risk factors; that don’t unfairly single out one group of individuals; and that allow all healthy Americans to donate. Given the enormous response by the citizens of Orlando, including members of the LGBT community, to donate blood to help heal their community, the FDA should lift this prejudicial ban once and for all.”
Nations like Spain have ended blanket deferrals for gay and bisexual men, instead considering the sexual behavior of individuals when deciding who qualifies as a donor.