WASHINGTON – A young gay rights activist has filed what is believed to be the first federal lawsuit challenging the U. S. Food and Drug Administration’s ban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood.
Virginia resident Caleb Laieski, 19, filed his lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court, and alleges that the FDA ban is discriminatory and unconstitutional, as it unfairly singles out gay men, is based outdated science and detection methods, and perpetuates the stereotype that HIV is a “gay” disease by implying “all gay men are sick.”
Under FDA the policy, first imposed in 1983, “men who have had sex with other men (MSM), at any time since 1977 (the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States) are currently deferred as blood donors. This is because MSM are, as a group, at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion.”
The suit notes that since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic more than 30 years ago, the scientific community’s understanding of the virus has changed dramatically, including advances in blood screening technology, and opposition from the nation’s blood banks and medical community have called the current ban “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”
The American Medical Association, the largest association of physicians in the U.S., voted last year to oppose the decades long ban, noting that HIV and AIDS testing has become standard practice in blood donations to minimize risk to recipients.
“The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” AMA board member Dr. William Kobler said in a statement last year, recommending that the FDA update its policy to accurately represent scientific research, rather than lump all gay men into a “high risk” category.
Article continues belowLaieski says the ban violates his constitutional rights, and the rights of others, by preventing him from participating in the “lifesaving act” of donating blood because of his sexual orientation.
In recent years, similar bans have been lifted or modified in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Sweden and New Zealand, allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood under less stringent restrictions.
Laieski has been active in the LGBT rights movement since age 14 when he was a victim of anti-gay bullying at his Arizona high school. He rose to national prominence in May 2011 when he traveled to Washington to lobby members of Congress to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA).