US: In the Midst of Tragedy, Blocked from Donating Blood

Despite some policy changes by the FDA, members of the queer community find that donating blood is still complicated, if not impossible. 

It’s been a bad year. Between Harvey, Irma, Maria, Las Vegas, and the North Bay fires, it seems there’s been a new fucking disaster every week, and the urge to help in the aftermath can be overwhelming. Of all the ways one can help, donating blood is accessible, impactful, and expedient. Unfortunately, for members of the queer community here in the Bay and elsewhere, donating blood can be complicated, if not impossible.

The complication for LGBTQ+ individuals lies in a guideline that dates back to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.  The Food and Drug Administration offers a set of guidelines for preventing the spread of HIV through transfusions and blood donations. One of those recommendations concerns gay men, bisexual men, transgender men and women, and their sexual partners. According to the FDA’s Revised Recommendations for Reducing the Risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Blood and Blood Products, blood collectors are advised to defer individuals if they are “a man who has had sex with another man during the past 12 months,” or “a female who has had sex during the past 12 months with a man who has had sex with another man in the past 12 months.”

There’s a large swath of people, particularly here in San Francisco and other queer-friendly communities, barred from donating blood simply on the basis of their sexual history. This policy requires people to double-check the sexual histories of their partners in order to help during crises of the kind we’ve experienced throughout the past few months and otherwise. The unfortunate truth is that this problem can’t be fixed overnight. For now, the stories we’ve collected speak to a world in which queer people are barred from donating, whether by policy, or more often than not, confusion.

In some cases, deferring certain individuals from donating blood based on actual risks to recipients is reasonable. Be it due to medications, disease, or other risk factors, while donating blood is easy, not everyone can do so. Even so, barring people from donating blood based on assumptions about their sexual history, and treating potential donors as their assigned gender rather than their identified one, may do more harm than good.  Read more via Bay City Beacon