Commentary

There’s a national blood crisis. It doesn’t have to be that way.

A doctor drawing blood from a patient who spent hours doing his hair just to go to the doctor, apparently
Photo: Shutterstock

The Red Cross has announced that for the first time in American history we are facing what they are calling a “national blood crisis”. Due to the increase in COVID infections, there is a lack of people donating blood plus a high number of blood drive cancellations and staffing shortages. These have led to the country having a dangerously low blood supply. In 2021 the Red Cross had a 34% decrease in new donors, a frighteningly large decline.

This seems like a particularly important and relevant time to once again consider the Food & Drug Administration’s bigoted unscientific ban on gay men giving blood that has lasted for almost four decades.

Related: Why are some LGBTQ people Republicans? Why do they vote against their own community?

“If the nation’s blood supply does not stabilize soon, life-saving blood may not be available for some patients when it is needed,” the Red Cross said.

Many are not aware this ban even exists, but yes, since 1983 the FDA has had regulations in place that recommend that men who have sex with men not be allowed to donate blood. Things have indeed improved a lot – it used to be a lifetime ban whereas since 2015 it is now a 3-month celibacy restriction – but it is still discriminatory and tells gay men across America that their blood is somehow dirty or unworthy of donation.

In 1983 the situation was very different and people were less knowledgeable about the causes of HIV/AIDS and how it might be transferred, but the politics, culture and science are different now. There is absolutely no rational or fact-based scientific reason, with the advent of effective blood testing and screening technology, that gay or bisexual men should not be able to donate, especially given the dire situation we face with our blood supply.

It is ridiculous and offensive to think that a gay couple for instance who has been together and monogamous for 40 years would be told under current rules that their blood is rejected, while a straight person who has unprotected sex on a nightly basis is perfectly acceptable. The fact that in 2022 this is still on the books is unthinkable and must be changed quickly so we can help end this national blood crisis.

The Biden Administration must use their bully pulpit and lobby the FDA to lift the ban on gay blood as soon as possible. As Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, an out gay man who has been married to his husband Chasten for four years, said in 2019, “I remember the moment when I realized that, unlike most initiatives that I spearhead, I can’t lead by example on this one, because my blood’s not welcome in this country. And it’s not based on science; it’s based on prejudice.”

It’s time for us to act before more lives are lost.

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