Orlando nightclub shooting: Here’s why gay and bisexual men are barred from donating blood

New York, June 13: In the aftermath of the harrowing shooting that claimed 50 lives at Orlando’s Pulse, an LGBT nightclub, dozens of injured victims were in dire need for blood. Hoards of people lined up to donate.

The subsequent calls from blood donors turned the focus to a brutal irony of many gay men being banned from donating blood, thanks to a restrictive law.

 Reason behind the ban on gay blood donorsRegulations imposed against gay men donating blood came into force in 1983 as a response to the panic surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The Food and Drug Administration’s ban came at a time when very little was known about the virus. The FDA had limited facilities to conduct screening tests for contaminated blood during those days. The officials were reluctant to accept blood they thought had a potential HIV risk.

But with the considerable progress in modern technology, many started viewing the lifetime ban as discriminatory and archaic. Blood banks and LGBT rights groups have been lobbying for years to turn the rule around.

Rumours about blood ban being temporarily lifted in Orlando

Social media platforms saw many rumours that said OneBlood, a donor clinic located in the city, was ignoring the FDA regulations, and that gay and bisexual men would not be turned away from donating blood. But it was soon confirmed that FDA blood ban is still intact.

They repeatedly tweeted saying, “Urgent need for O Neg, O Pos and AB Plasma donors following a mass shooting in Orlando.”

Year of Abstinence Policy

The American medical Association called for an end on the ban in 2013 stating that it was discriminatory in nature and was scientifically illogical. In 2015 federal Food and Drug Administration relaxed the law but didn’t completely lift the ban. In the revised policy, prohibition on donating blood was to be imposed on any man who has had sex with another man in the past year.

People on social media were outraged by the ‘cruel irony’ behind this rule. Critics point out that, while revised recommendations rule out gay men in monogamous relationships from donating blood, it does not take into account the large number of heterosexual people who had recent unprotected sex with multiple partners to donate blood.

The rule largely continues to stigmatize gay men

The revised policy falls short of acceptable solutions to prevent the gay community from being sidelined. David Stacy Government Affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign said in a report, “This new policy prevents men from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation rather than actual risk to the blood supply.”

The American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers, and the American Association of Blood Banks have characterized the blood ban as medically and scientifically unwarranted as far back as 2006.

The FDA’s current policy clubs the US with UK, Australia, Sweden, and Japan, who have all switched to the 12-month abstinence rule.  Italy bases blood donations on individual risk assessments, which means they demand donor’s history with unprotected sex. Canada and New Zealand have five-year deferral periods while South Africa asks donors to wait six months.