Some days reading the news is well, depressing and awful to be honest. You read down the list of Doom, Bad Person, Fire, Pestilence, War, Bad, Really Bad, Way BAD and well, that is enough for today, this is seriously bad for my Mental Health and then (que Etta James and her glorious “At Last”) you find one nugget of gold. That nugget is that after 40 plus years of bigotry, the FDA is finally changing their rules that essentially banned gay and bisexual men from donating blood!
Why the excitement over blood donation of all things? Because equality matters, period. So why was this even a rule in the first place? Blood donation rules, particularly concerning gay and bisexual men have been a contentious issue for decades. Historically men who have had sex with men were indefinitely deferred or banned from donating blood due to concerns related to HIV transmission. However, with advancements in medical technology and a better understanding of HIV and its transmission, the restrictions began to loosen. The most recent changes in blood donation policies represent a significant win for the gay community.
Kody Kinsley, secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, is a huge proponent of blood donation, but was previously banned from legally donating because he is a gay man. When asked why gay and bisexual men couldn’t previously donate he responded, "there was no reason, other than discrimination. And that weight of discrimination is disempowering. It's frustrating. It pushes people apart. It also telegraphs to people in the community that, you know, 'gay and bisexual men are different and risky, inherently, in who they are.' And that's just inaccurate."
Why this is such a win for the LGBTQIA Community:
1. Equality and Non-Discrimination
The previous rules blatantly discriminated against gay and bisexual men and made it seem like their sex life somehow put people at risk. This was based on AIDs and HIV related fear from the 80s. Updating the rules acknowledges that HIV risks are associated with behaviors and not sexual orientation. This step towards equality ensures that the gay community is not stigmatized or unfairly treated.
2. Reflecting Modern Science
We should always respect science and the progress made by scientists. Modern tests can detect HIV within days to weeks of infection. The FDA went from a lifetime ban for gay and bisexual men, to a one year ban, which meant that for 12 months they had to be celibate and then down to 3 months celibate during COVID and massive blood donation needs. But none of these rules reflected the speed and accuracy of current testing methodologies. By updating donation criteria to mirror the capabilities of modern science, it underscores that policy decisions should be based on evidence rather than fear or prejudice.
3. Increasing Blood Supply
By expanding the pool of eligible donors, blood banks can potentially receive more donations, thereby helping to ensure a steady and sufficient blood supply. This is especially crucial during emergencies or times when donations typically decline.
Christopher Hanson, an attorney in South Carolina, advocated for changes to the FDA’s blood donation rules pro bono on behalf of a LGBTQ health center in Washington, D.C.
He is a gay married man in a monogamous relationship and wanted to help others like him have the ability to donate and help the community. “It’s an entirely powerful experience because you are giving blood to save lives. Knowing when you’re in a monogamous marriage that you’re being denied that ability, I said to myself, ‘I need to find other ways to help people.’”
4. Mental and Psychological Boost
For many gay and bisexual men, the inability to donate blood was a constant reminder of societal discrimination and stigma. The policy change can have positive psychological benefits, affirming their worth and their ability to contribute to society.
5. Raising Awareness about Safe Behaviors
Instead of singling out gay and bisexual men, the new policies focus on specific high risk behaviors which can apply to anyone. The new rules and their wording are an opportunity to raise awareness about safe sex practices among the entire population, which is ultimately beneficial for public health at large.
6. Global Implications
Countries often look to each other as benchmarks for health policies. As more nations adopt progressive blood donation rules, it can create a ripple effect, encouraging other countries to reevaluate and update their policies, further amplifying the positive impact.
7. Supporting a Broader Movement
This change is not just about blood donation but is a part of a broader movement toward equality and recognition for LGBTQ+ rights. Every win, whether it concerns marriage rights, employment nondiscrimination, or blood donation, bolsters the momentum of the overall push for equal rights.
The new blood donation rules, which moves away from discriminatory policies, are a significant win for the LGBTQIA community. They highlight the importance of basing health policies on science, fairness, and equality. As we move forward, it is essential to remember the value of continual reevaluation of policies in light of new knowledge, ensuring that they remain relevant, fair, and beneficial to all.
All the best-Team SG
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Food for thought:
Do you donate blood?
As a Gay or Bisexual Man, will this encourage you to donate?
Have you ever been a recipient of blood donation?