The LGBTQ+ Fight for Equal Blood Donation Rights
by: Max Porter
In 1983, the HIV/AIDS pandemic was in its early stages. Although the darkest days were yet to come, the situation was still devastating. Between 1970 and 1983, over 600 people had succumbed to the sickness across the United States, with many more worldwide. The virus, transmitted through infected bodily fluids such as blood and semen leading to a rapid decline of the body's ability to fight infections, was affecting mainly homosexual men who did not engage in protective sex. It was quickly labeled as a "gay disease." As a consequence, the Food and Drug Administration implemented a ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood in 1983, a devastating blow to gay males eager to help in life-saving blood transfer efforts. In 2015, the FDA changed the rule to recommend a year-long abstinence period between when MSM last have sex and the day they donate blood. Early on in the pandemic when blood was in high demand, the FDA changed the regulation again, making the interval three months. However, the edits to this statute are not good enough. People should not be discouraged or entirely excluded from anything, including blood donations, just for their identity.
The main argument from supporters of the differences in blood donation protocols is that the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission through blood donations is lessened with gay men dispirited from contributing. While it is true that MSM make up 69% of the people living with HIV/AIDS, there is another 31% of individuals who have it. This infected population likely engaged in high risk behaviors such as unsafe sex, the same as many gay men, but yet do not get screened and can give contaminated blood without the knowledge of those taking it. I and many others would argue that a chastity timeline should exist, three months or shorter, but only be applied to people based on if they engage in high risk behaviors, not on their sexuality; not all MSM have unsafe sex and not all straight individuals have safe sex. Many MSM who take precautions are being unnecessarily stopped from donating blood and the thousands of heterosexuals who do the same are not being treated equally when giving blood; it is unjust and unsafe.
But, hypothetically, even if no pre-blood donation screening is conducted, there is still a relatively low risk of a transfusion containing infected blood because of the highly advanced and accurate blood tests that are conducted before this and can reveal content that is dangerous. There are three main HIV/AIDS testing methods: antibody, antigen, and genetic material tests. Despite these techniques being incredibly accurate individually, examinations of the same blood using a combination of more than one method are better and lead to above a 99% accuracy rate and detection of HIV/AIDS by 1 ½ months after contamination. In conjunction with high risk rather than sexual preference screening, the possibliity of someone getting HIV/AIDS through a blood transfusion is incredibly low.
The blood donation hindrances that MSM face are not only affecting them, but their friends, families, and complete strangers who need blood urgently. There is a completely untapped resource in MSM who do not engage in high risk behavior for HIV/AIDS. With the Red Cross declaring the 1st national blood crisis in history on Tuesday, it is now more important than ever for change to occur regarding blood donation practices; lives and equal rights are on the line.