In 1983, in response to the HIV crisis, the FDA instituted a life-time blood donation ban on men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) and women-who-have-sex-with-MSM (see our FAQ on this topic posted last July here). Gradually reduced from a lifetime ban to a 3-month deferral from MSM sexual contact, this was finally fully repealed earlier this year and replaced by a general risk assessment for all populations (see our statement about this here). Chosen Family of Michigan was pleased to do our part by petitioning for these changes last summer in partnership with the American Red Cross of Southwest Michigan at Pride events, and this summer we were able to return to Pride events to explain the updated guidelines!
What is the new eligibility criteria to donate?
The language on the donor assessment prior to donation will be adjusted to ask the same sexual behavior questions for all populations to identify individual risk, rather than sexual orientation.
All prospective donors will be asked if they have had new or multiple sexual partners in the last 3 months. Those who answer yes will be asked if they also had anal sex during that time frame. Only those who answer yes to both questions will be asked to defer from donating for 3 months.
Those who answer "no" to having new or multiple sexual partners in the last three months will not be asked about anal sex. Anal sex does not result in deferral from blood donation if you have not had new or multiple sexual partners in the last three months.
The use of HIV preventative medications such as PrEP will cause a deferral period to donate due to its potential to interfere with HIV testing.
What does this all mean for LGBTQ+ people?
This change in FDA policy replaces a discriminatory policy that was not based in science and ultimately furthered the stigma that HIV is a "gay disease." Other demographics have had higher rates of HIV for a while now, and yet the MSM deferral remained. Testing blood for HIV has come a long way since 1983, but the fear-based policy stayed in place- until now.
For decades, MSM were unable or deferred from donating even if they were in a long-term monogamous relationship- including married gay men who only had sex with each other. This new policy removes discriminatory language and replaces it with a policy that is based on riskier sexual behavior for everyone and not a ban simply on what gender you have sex with.
We know further adjustments to this policy should be explored. PrEP medications are an important tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS but being on this medication results in a deferral- meaning many LGBTQ+ will still be unable to donate without restrictions. CFM will continue to advocate for the FDA to conduct more research to determine to what degree, if any, PrEP medications truly affect the screening of blood donations.
Ultimately, this new policy helps remove stigma and restrictions based on sexual orientation, while being more closely aligned with science. In the midst of a blood shortage, we hope more LGBTQ+ donate blood.
Many organizations that collect blood donations, such as the American Red Cross (who we partner with), are still awaiting their adjusted questionnaire forms to be approved by the FDA. Once approval is granted, these organizations will be able to begin collecting donations under the new guidelines. Stay updated on this by following us on social media!