June 14, 2016 at 4:23 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
White House defends gay blood ban after Orlando shooting
Josh Earnest, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the gay blood ban after the Orlando shooting. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended on Tuesday the Obama administration policy requiring celibacy of gay men for one year before they can donate blood amid calls for additional contributions in the wake of the Orlando shooting.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade on whether the ban would be revisited, Earnest asserted the policy, implemented by the Food & Drug Administration last year in place of the lifetime ban instituted in 1983, is based on scientific advice.

“It was made consistent with the advice that our scientists have offered about the best way to ensure the safety of the blood supply,” Earnest said. “So, you do know, and I think you covered this, that there was a policy decision that was made to change what had been a lifetime ban on gay men donating to a one-year deferral that you described. So, there has been a policy change.”

Earnest defended the policy despite continued calls from LGBT advocates to lift the blanket ban on gay and bisexual men and put in its place a policy based on individual risk assessment.

“That is a policy change that was made consistent with the advice of our best scientists and public health professionals,” Earnest added. “The president believes that when it comes to these kinds of questions that we’re going to rely on scientific advice.”

Asked if there’s any opportunity for change in the remaining months of the Obama administration, or whether that would have to wait until the next presidency, Earnest emphasized the importance of science.

“If there are additional changes that are made, it’s going to be rooted in the advice that we’re getting from the scientists at the FDA,” Earnest said.

According to the Florida-based group One Blood, there was an urgent need for O-negative, O-positive and AB-plasma blood donors following the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 49 dead and 53 wounded. Some media reports circulated the FDA had temporarily lifted its policy to accommodate the emergency, but One Blood denied that was the case and said the ban remained in effect.

Conceivably, a gay or bisexual person seeking to donate blood for a friend, partner or spouse who was a victim of the Orlando shooting could have been barred from doing so by acknowledging having had sex in the past year with the person for whom the donation was intended.

The Blade has placed a call to the Department of Health & Human Services to inquire if any gay or bisexual men were blocked from donating blood in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting.

Jay Franzone, spokesperson for the National Gay Blood Drive, said the Orlando shooting “absolutely” demonstrates the need to revisit the gay blood ban.

“The need for blood is constant and the tragic massacre in Orlando reminded us of that need,” Franzone said. “It was clear before it was even announced that the 12-month deferral didn’t go far enough. It was the result of an overabundance of government bureaucracy and caution, not science. Now we find ourselves in a situation where the victims directly affected by this tragedy and in need of lifesaving blood are the very people banned from donating it. We strongly encourage HHS & FDA to revisit the policy at their upcoming committee meetings and start to move toward a deferral based upon individual risk assessment.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • How is ban causing a shortage of blood? I thought the blood banks was overfilled with people who were able to donate?

    • I’m not sure your info is correct. Even if it is, you are missing one facet of the issue: the shooting was at the Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, thus many gay people want to donate blood to help the victims, who are in essence their extended family. Currently sexually active MSM people are not allowed to do so; it’s akin to not being allowed to give blood for you injured brother when he needs it.

      • Who care if gays helped or someone helped? The main point is that those people who were shot received blood and are alive. Gays need to stop being so self centered. Do you think the people who were shot cared if the blood cam from gays or other people?

        • So you would not care if you got a blood transfusion to save your live from a gay man? That’s what you are saying? You’d accept it?

          • Yes, I would accept blood from a gay person with the restriction that are in place.. But, if gays were not to donate, I would not care… That is what I am saying. Gays are acting like it was a shortage of blood and due to these restrictions people died from the shooting at the club..
            Did any person that was shot complain that Gays were not able to donate blood to help them out? NO, because they received blood due to these restrictions. So, the restriction is a non-issue..

          • They only point out the irony that they can’t contribute like anyone else if they are monogamous. They don’t what to be singled out as if they were infected with AIDS or HIV. Especially when it’s gay to gay not gay to strIght.

        • That’s sorta the point. It shouldn’t matter where the blood came from. Gays arent angry b/c of some self centered reason. It’s because we’re saying HEY HEY WE NEED BLOOD BLOOD ALARM ALARM WE REQUIRE BLOOD BLOOD DONORS COME COME! and then someone comes, perhaps a happy homosexual male with 2 kids and a partner of 5 years, and say: urgh not you. but hey you over there! *points to heterosexual male who’s been with half the cheerleading squad* yeah we want your blood! and then starts yelling for more blood. and btw, some banks were so depleted had another major situation happened, accident or natural disaster, some would end up with delayed or no blood. A lot of times you’re not donating for the current victims, but to refill the blood bank ASAP to ensure that there IS supply, or to help out in those blood groups where the supply is hours away or simply not available.

          • But, is HIV not ramped among homosexuals? HIV is increasing among the homosexuals at an alarming rate. What does a partner of 5 years have to do with anything? There are more gay couples who have open relationships than heterosexuals couples because most females are not going to share there man with another female.

            But, you did bring up a good point. Heterosexual males sexual behavior is not good. Now, imaging two males in a relationship? It will be even worse! But, heterosexual males, they are more than likely to use protection because of the risk of creating life. It is proven that gay males have more unprotected $ex due to the absence of creating life.

            The blood banks were filled to capacity without the gays donating. So if the blood banks are still being filled, why lift the restrictions? There is no need to taint the blood supply. We are doing just fine without the restriction in place now..

  • I’m curious how other countries deal with this.

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