Why Can’t HIV-Free Gay Men Donate Blood?


People get squeamish when talking about sex. It’s a fact. And gay sex? Out of the question.

When it comes to giving blood, the LGBT community is ultimately banned from donating because of sex.

This is a problem for homosexual individuals.

When I went to donate at a Red Cross blood drive on my college campus, I inquired about the LGBT policy. I was told that, as a gay man, I was not allowed to donate blood.

Is it a right to be able to donate blood? Of course not.

The CDC states that men who have sex with men “account for more than half of the 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States.” There’s no denying that sexually active homosexual men are more at risk for HIV/AIDS than “the average” person.

This might not seem like an important point for most heterosexual individuals. Why the fuss about it?

Quite frankly, when I was informed that I wasn’t eligible to donate because of my sexual orientation, I felt like a second-class citizen for the first time in my life.

I was told – without room for consideration – that my blood wasn’t good enough. My blood, as red as any others, wasn’t worthy of saving lives.

Donation eligibility requirements prohibit you from donating if “You are a man who has had sex with another man since 1977,” not whether you’ve had unprotected sex regardless of gender.

Jacquelyn Pabron, a Red Cross DC clinical eligibility associate with whom I spoke with over the phone, attributes this policy to the “fear that caused rules to be enacted at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s and [they] haven’t been seriously looked at since.”

This poses a problem – the current requirements prohibit only gay men from donating in that clause, equating homosexuals to people who, “engaged in sex for money or drugs since 1977.”

Essentially, gay men are in the same ballpark as prostitutes and addicts.

A gay man classified as “high-risk,” however, is like saying that your dishes are dirty – if you keep them clean, they won’t be dirty. Gay men who have unprotected sex with multiple partners are at high risk for HIV.

Austin Clyde, a 17 year-old gay high school student in Webster, NY, protested the Red Cross’ blood drive at his school because the “blanket statement on homosexuals in general is wrong.”

Gay men who use protection every time and get tested for diseases are at the same risk level as any heterosexual person.

“I think the FDA shouldn’t be asking whether you’ve had sexual contact with another man since 1977,” said Clyde. “They should question how often you engage in risky sexual activities. Those are the things that lead to HIV/AIDS, not homosexuality.”

I am a careful person – regularly tested for these diseases, I had hoped that my negative test results might allow me to be eligible to donate.

Pabron explained that’s not how the Red Cross functions.

“The reason we can’t consider people who bring in test results from their doctor’s saying that they are HIV negative is because the Red Cross doesn’t accept any outside testing – it all has to be internal,” said Pabron.

It should be mentioned that the blood you donate to the Red Cross doesn’t just get shipped off to a hospital to be transfused into a patient.

“A dozen tests are performed on each unit of donated blood – to establish the blood type and test for infectious diseases,” according to the Red Cross website. “If a test result is positive, the unit is discarded and the donor is notified.”

The testing and careful review of donations ought to be enough to satisfy potential doubt about blood donations.

Each sample is reviewed and carefully screened for any infectious disease. If that is not suitable enough, a homosexual man tested within the last several months should be allowed to bring in his signed test results to the Red Cross to be considered eligible for donation.

Even Pabron, the expert on donation eligibility from the Red Cross doesn’t understand the reason for the ban on sexually active homosexual men.

“I can’t tell you why we won’t accept blood from certain individuals even though we screen it for diseases,” said Pabron. “I don’t know.”

Grouping an entire category of sexuality into an “at risk” category that prevents them from helping to potentially save up to three lives by donating a pint of blood seems rather antiquated.

Pabron added that there are other groups in the U.S. that are more at risk than the LGBT community for HIV/AIDS – and the Red Cross doesn’t screen them out.

“Though sexually active homosexual men are at a higher risk for HIV than other populations, there are other groups that are at even higher risk, and nothing’s being done to prevent them from donating,” Pabron explained. “So, that’s why we’re trying to implement a new policy.”

Recent talks with the FDA about lifting the ban and imposing restrictions would create similar legislation to the European Union. In many EU countries, men who have sex with men are allowed to donate blood if they have abstained from homosexual intercourse for a year.

Pabron expects the policy, which was changed Dec. 23, 2014, to be officially enacted within the next several months.

Though gay men are banned from donating regardless of STD/HIV test results or if they use protection while having sex, heterosexual people with certain STDs are still permitted to donate blood.

After 12 months of treatment, heterosexual people with syphilis and gonorrhea are allowed to donate blood. Chlamydia, venereal warts (human papilloma virus) and genital herpes does not cause you to be screened out of selection.

Are people with STDs any less of a risk than gay men without HIV/STDs? If someone has had an STD that likely means that he/she was engaging in “risky sexual behavior.” Does that make them any less of a person? No.

Donating blood is not a right.

But, with more HIV and STD-free blood, more lives can be saved. The Red Cross says that blood shortages are a constant problem.

Why not consider enforcing strict rules for gay men to donate blood, rather than enforcing a ban over the entire community?