Is it less controversial to end a long-standing ban on gay and bi men donating blood than to bar suspected terrorists from owning assault rifles? Maybe.
On Monday, the same day the Senate failed to advance new gun control reforms following the worst mass shooting in American history — one that targeted LGBT people — 24 Democratic senators penned a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urging an end to its current ban on male donors who've had sex with men in the past year.
"During times of tragedy, the American people are quick to demonstrate their resiliency and mobilize in solidarity with victims and affected communities," reads the letter, spearheaded by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and out Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin. "We have witnessed that compassion as Floridians quickly lined up to donate blood for the wounded. Yet, some of those most touched by this tragedy — members of the LGBT community, who are especially eager to contribute to the response effort—are finding themselves turned away. Due to the FDA’s current MSM deferral policy, many healthy gay and bisexual men remain prohibited from donating needed blood. We are steadfastly committed to ending the FDA’s discriminatory policy that prohibits many healthy MSM from donating blood and moving to policies that secure our nation’s blood supply in a scientifically sound manner based on individual risk."
The one-year abstinence demand, formalized in December, is actually an improvement from the earlier policy. Since 1983, the FDA has barred all men who have ever had sex with another man — since 1977 — from donating blood, according to the FDA website. Prior to this new policy shift, the FDA generally considered trans women who have sex with men to be part of the group of "men who have sex with men," who are barred from giving blood. The 1983 ban was due to fears about HIV being transmitted through blood donations, as gay and bi men were hit hard by the epidemic, but all blood is screened for the virus — and in any case, most gay and bi men do not carry it.
Meanwhile, other Western nations are looking to reform their blood donationan policies. Scotland recently joined the rest of the United Kingdom to end its lifetime ban on gay and bi donors, and Canada just moved from a five-year abstinence demand to the one-year rule. LGBT rights leaders, like the senators, want to see more policies like those in Spain, where individual risk is calculated and an entire group isn't barred from donating.