The Food and Drug Administration needs to prioritize a health messaging campaign to ease gay and bisexual men into donating blood, medical experts say, after the organization announced its plan to lift restrictions.
Gay and bisexual men could soon face fewer challenges in donating if the FDA lifts its rules restricting all men who have had sex with men in the past three months from donating blood after a study was conducted with 1,600 gay and bisexual men.
The new policy would require potential donors to complete a new individual-based risk questionnaire that would look into their sexual activity, including if they have had new sexual partners in the past three months.
However, while medical experts see this as a much-needed, long-overdue change, they do not predict gay and bisexual men will be eager to line up and donate blood — after what several groups refer to as decades of discrimination — unless the government actively works to erase the stigma surrounding LGBT men donating blood.
Anthony J. Santella, a public health professor at Connecticut’s Fairfield University, said in an interview with Bloomberg Law that, as a gay man, he will not be wanting to donate blood even once the policy changes unless he sees “governmental officials and partners commit their time, resources, and energy to this initiative.”
“A policy change isn’t going to, overnight, change how gay, bi[sexual], and other men who have sex with men feel about how we’ve been treated as a community,” Santella said.
He added that it is important for government agencies to ensure that everyone, not just gay and bisexual men, are educated “about where we were and where we are today.”
Carlos Rodriguez-Diaz, associate professor and vice chairman of George Washington University’s Department of Prevention and Community Health, said the federal government’s outreach should include education on HIV transmission and ways to prevent it.
“Historically, there’s been a lack of information and communication with the LGBT community in terms of their eligibility to donate blood and how they can engage in activities that actually is giving life,” Rodriguez-Diaz said.
Organizations such as the American Red Cross, American Medical Association, and Human Rights Campaign are among those who believe the FDA’s blood donation policies are discriminatory toward gay and bisexual men, though they have cautioned that any changes should maintain the safety of blood supplies.
Other countries have made similar moves to remove restrictions. Earlier this year, Canada removed a three-month requirement, instead opting to screen potential donors about their sexual history.
The FDA reduced the abstinence period from 12 months to 3 months when there were blood shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.