The following excerpt is from an op-ed that first appeared in STATNews on February 5, 2023.

As a doctor, I have dedicated my life to saving the lives of others. But as a gay doctor, I have long been unable to do one simple thing that saves lives: donate blood.

For more than 30 years, policies in the United States have banned gay and bisexual men from donating blood. That could change — ending decades of discrimination — if the Food and Drug Administration’s newly announced proposal for blood donation is made permanent.

In 1985, the FDA placed a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood in the U.S. That policy, based on fear and misconceptions of HIV and AIDS at the time, remained in place until December 2015, when the FDA revised the ban and replaced it with a one-year deferral period: Gay and bisexual men were allowed to donate blood if they had not engaged in any sexual activity with other men in the year prior to the donation. In April 2020, because of the Covid-19 pandemic and massive blood shortages, the FDA shortened the deferral period to three months. It is important to note that, under this policy, men who did not identify as having sexual contact with other men were not asked about sexual activity and did not have to undergo any waiting period before donating blood.

But even this three-month deferral stigmatized men who have sex with men by not imposing the same requirement for all blood donors. This policy reinforced negative stereotypes about gay and bisexual people, particularly that HIV is a “gay disease” when it affects people of all sexualities. It also supported the false perception that heterosexual people are at low risk for HIV infection.

Read the entire op-ed here.

For more on this topic, see Kevin B. Johnson’s Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed


Square portrait of Scott Jelinek

Scott Jelinek, MD, MPH

Fellow, Adolescent Medicine, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

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