June 28, 2016 at 9:30 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Members of Congress urge FDA to end gay, bisexual blood ban

Jared Polis, Colorado, United States House of Representatives, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) is among the lawmakers who have urged the Food and Drug Administration to end its ban on non-celibate gay and bisexual men from donating blood. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than 100 members of Congress have signed letters that urge the Food and Drug Administration to lift its deferral policy towards non-celibate gay and bisexual men who want to donate blood.

U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) are among the members of the U.S. House of Representatives who have urged FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf to end the policy in the wake of the June 12 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and other members of the U.S. Senate have signed onto a separate letter to Califf.

“We can’t say some people can give blood, other people can’t based on their sexual orientation,” U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who represents Orlando, told reporters on Tuesday during a conference call the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the National Gay Blood Drive organized.

Courtney Hagen of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee noted during the conference call that more than 12,000 people have signed a petition urging the FDA to end its policy. She also pointed out there “were many sad stories” in Orlando of “survivors who were unable to donate blood to their friends who had been shot (inside the Pulse nightclub) simply because they were gay.”

“A discriminatory FDA ban that requires gay men to be celibate for one year to donate meant that thousands of healthy donors were turned away from Orlando blood banks that desperately needed their blood,” said Hagen. “Their community was under attack, but they were unable to do even the simplest of acts to help it heel.”

Gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) also took part in the conference call.

“It’s high time for this outdated and discriminatory policy to end,” said the Colorado Democrat.

White House defended policy after Orlando massacre

The FDA in December 2015 announced it would no longer impose a lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

“They need to go further,” said Hagen on Tuesday, referring to the agency’s current policy.

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre introduced a measure that would loosen the current policy towards gay and bisexual blood donors during local or national emergencies. Grayson on Tuesday said he plans to propose a bill that will allow the federal government to provide grants to blood banks to conduct “more thorough testing” of blood from donors.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the current policy in the days after the Pulse nightclub massacre.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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