The Ban On Gay Blood

In the wake of the Orlando atrocity at Pulse Nightclub, Americans have revitalized many social and political conversations that are very polarizing with strong opinions on every side. Namely, gun control and the extent to what that really means has been taking center stage once again. I don’t particularly want to get into that with this blog post. Instead, I want to address the FDA’s 12 month ban on “gay blood” that currently prevents gay men who are sexually active in the last 12 months from giving blood. It may sound like a small and relatively inconsequential thing, but the reality is, it is discrimination codified by the government. This is not OK, no matter how “inconsequential” an issue might be.

The root of the ban stems from a time when there was great fear and misunderstanding about the origins and details of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). It was erroneously thought to be a “gay disease”, and while it certainly affected gay men disproportionately than others, people soon realized that the virus itself did not discriminate. Nearly everyone is susceptible to contracting the virus if they are exposed to it in unsafe circumstances.

We’ve come a long way since then. We now screen all blood through 13 tests, 10 of which look for diseases like HIV. While HIV is generally detectable 7-11 days after a person has been infected, it is true that a small fraction of cases take longer. While this is certainly unfortunate, and could be the reason for keeping restrictive rules on groups that are high risk for HIV, the problem is then really in the definition of who is at high risk. A monogamous homosexual male couple is no more at risk than a monogamous heterosexual couple. But under the FDA’s current rules, the gay couple cannot give blood. Why? Because they are gay.

I’d also like to explore another factor¬†that I think should be studied into context here: the arrival of
Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs for building up an immunity to HIV. I feel like those who are on the drug should be considered more favorably, when all other things are considered. As a sexually active gay man, my risk of contracting HIV is far lower than my peers if I use PrEP and practice other means of safe sex. PrEP is proving to be so effective (92-99%[1]), that it actually tips the scales. While there isn’t any literature that specifically claims this, I’m willing to believe that a gay man on PrEP is a safer choice than a hetero man who is not… given both being sexually promiscuous.

In the end, we do need to ensure the safety of our blood supply, but we also need to not be discriminatory about the rules in place. We should also extend some of the precautions that are levied exclusively against gay men, to all people. (Such as anyone who is promiscuous should be considered high risk, for starters!)

If you agree with me, and you’d like to do a little more… consider signing this petition!