September 28, 2021 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Los Angeles LGBT Center Trying To End Blood Donation Discrimination

The Los Angeles LGBT Center is doing its part to end blood donation discrimation against gay and bisexual men. 

According to blood donation requirements if a gay or bisexual man wants to donate blood he must refrain from having sex with other men for at least three months prior. 

In an effort to change the policy, the Center is one of eight LGBT centers nationwide that are each responsible for recruiting 250–300 gay and bi men between 18 to 39 years old for the ADVANCE (Assessing Donor Variability and New Concepts in Eligibility) study funded through a contract with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The pilot study is being launched by three of the nation’s largest blood centers: Vitalant, OneBlood, and the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross website states, “The American Red Cross believes blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation. We are committed to working with partners toward achieving this goal.”

In December 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) moved from a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood to a deferral of one year for any man who has had sex with another man during the past 12 months. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration, this pre-screening eliminates up to 90 percent of donors who may be carrying a blood-borne disease.

Every donated unit of blood undergoes a rigorous series of tests to determine any possible presence of HIV, hepatitis, syphilis and other blood-borne diseases. None of these tests, however, are 100 percent accurate, and they can produce faulty results. For instance, despite current restrictions and testing of approximately 12 million units donated each year, 10 HIV-infected units have slipped through. To ensure the safety of blood and other tissues for donation, the FDA uses scientific data to automatically defer certain populations. Because gay and bisexual men have higher incidence of disease, they have been eliminated from the donor pool immediately.

In light of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic the FDA further loosened its regulations of its restrictions on gay men being allowed to donate blood. Instead of 1 year, if a male has had sex with another male, he need only wait 3 months to donate blood. 

Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Director of Research Risa Flynn voiced her opinion about the FDA’s regulations, “From the perspective of the Center and our community, it communicated such intense stigma and discrimination,” she states “People want to donate their blood and do an act of public good—but still being told it’s not safe. They’re made to feel judged for who they are.”

The ADVANCE study is looking at eliminating the three-month time period deferral in favor of having an extended questionnaire for potential donors to assess any risk behavior.

Participants in the study will have a blood sample drawn for HIV testing and will answer different questions designed to determine individual HIV risk factors. The study will assess if the questions related to behavior are effective in distinguishing gay and bi men who have recently tested positive for HIV from those who have not. Its findings will help determine the next steps needed to modify the donor history questionnaire.

Data collected from the ADVANCE study will then be submitted to the FDA who will review and decide next steps.

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