Seeing health services around the world significantly under-resourced and prepared to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic is heartbreaking. And, as queer men, it sucks that if we’ve had sex with another man in the last 12 months (which is perfectly valid and encouraged tbh), we can’t actually help make a difference and donate blood.
This policy is an act of discrimination towards LGBTQI+ people deeply rooted in health facilities around the world, including our own Australian Red Cross’s Lifeblood agency (yikes). But, in a letter to congress and blood donation organisations, U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and other senators want to change that and abolish the ban.
Why can’t gay and bisexual men donate blood?
According to The Washington Blade, Sanders and other senators, including Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin, the country’s only out lesbian senator, are petitioning the Food and Drug Association to take another look at the current policies towards men in same-sex relations donating blood and consider uplifting it.
In a letter signed on March 26, the group describe the current policy, which permits gay and bisexual men from donating only if they haven’t performed oral or anal sex in the last twelve months, as “discriminatory,” “antiquated and stigmatising.” Speaking to The Washington Blade, a spokesperson for Sen. Sanders also claimed that if elected as U.S. President, he would uplift the ban. By contrast, fellow Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden has yet to officially support the uplifting, saying that policies should be “based on science.”
The policy was introduced by the Obama administration in 2015, after gay and bisexual men were unfairly met with a lifetime ban from donating blood in 1983 following the outbreak of HIV. During that time, the U.S. government was heavily criticised for not having appropriate measures to treat patients, with the LGBT community significantly affected, leaving some to label it as a “gay disease.”
Anywho, with more people taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which extremely reduces the risk of HIV infection, using condoms and other safe sex practices and educating themselves, many more gay and bisexual men are aware of their HIV-negative status and how to eliminate the risks of transmission. As such, the policy feels out of date and unnecessary.
Does America Have The Freedom To Not Accept Gay And Bisexual Men’s Donations Rn?
As the letter continues, the American Association of Blood Banks is predicting fewer donations of 355,000 people due to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to CNBC, over 4,000 donations have been cancelled in the U.S., and the situation has gotten so bad that hospitals are starting to ration their blood supply with patients.
GLAAD is currently turning to people to sign a petition to let queer folks donate (it’s currently met with 16,000 of 20,000 needed signatures). And, as various queer men stress on Twitter, they would love to be able to help.
It’s unclear whether this will have a chain reaction to Australia but we can only hope.
As of writing and according to the John Hopkins University of Medicine’s live report, the U.S. has the most confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the world, currently sitting at 161,807 infected, at least 36,000 of which coming from New York City. By contrast, Australia has 4,361.