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After decades of protest, the FDA considers easing restrictions on LGBTQ men donating blood

A person donates blood.
Vesna Andjic
Getty Images
Currently the FDA allows LGBTQ men to donate blood only if they haven't had sex with another man for three months.

The FDA banned donations entirely during the HIV epidemic in the early 1980s when little was known about AIDS. But the risk of transfusion-related transmission hasn’t been a real concern for decades. Kansas City University professor Dr. Benjamin Grin says the government’s holdout on changing guidelines is in part because of a lingering stigma.

New guidelines proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in late January would make it so LGBTQ men would no longer have to abstain from sex to donate blood.

The revised recommendations say potential donors should be screened for eligibility based on individual risk factors and not gender and sexuality.

“Under the old policy, a gay man who had been in a monogamous relationship for 20 years couldn't donate blood if they'd been sexually active in the last three months, whereas a straight guy who'd had 20 partners in the last month would be eligible to donate,” Kansas City University professor Dr. Benjamin Grin told Up To Date on Tuesday. “And that really didn't align with the science about the risk of contracting HIV.”

While advocates say this a step in the right direction for equality, some also think the proposed guidance doesn't go far enough and continues to stigmatize LGBTQ men.

The news comes as the nation experiences a severe blood supply shortage made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Final recommendations will be released after a 60 day public comment period and likely won't take effect until the end of the year.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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