June 17, 2016 at 3:07 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Rep. Honda introduces bill to loosen gay blood ban

Mike Honda, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) has introduced legislation that would loosen the gay blood ban. (Washington Blade photo by Tyler Grigsby)

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) has introduced legislation in Congress that would loosen the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.

The two-page bill, dubbed the Deliver for Our Nation at Times of Emergency Act, or DONATE Act, would require the Department of Health & Human Services to “provide for increased flexibility” in the blood donor supply at times of national or local need.

“It was a horrific irony that gay and bisexual men could not donate in a time of local need,” Honda said in a statement. “This is not a problem of science; it’s a problem of morality. It’s time for the secretary to use her authority, while respecting all safety controls, to give our local blood banks resources today so they can respond to the demand of tomorrow.”

Honda introduced the legislation days after a horrific shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that killed 49 people — LGBT and overwhelmingly Latino — and wounded 53 others. 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 incident.

Under policy implemented by the Food & Drug Administration, gay and bisexual must abstain from sex with other men for a year to be eligible to donate blood. The policy, implemented late last year, replaces a lifetime ban instituted in 1983 at the height of the AIDS crisis that prohibited men donating blood if they had sex with a man even once.

Honda’s proposal falls short of calls from LGBT advocates to replace one-year deferral with a blood donation policy that evaluates potential donors on an individual risk basis without taking into account sexual orientation.

A Honda aide said the lawmaker supports lifting the ban entirely, but the legislation was drafted with the impact of the Orlando shooting in mind.

“This legislation sends a clear message that the secretary should be more proactive during — and accountable for — meeting local and national needs,” the aide said. “By elevating the debate to the secretary, the congressman is hopeful we can get better answers to questions about blood shortages and disparities in blood screening requirements.”

The legislation has no co-sponsors, but the aide said Honda intends to send a “dear colleague” to colleagues next week to collect them.

Among the supporters of the bill are Equality California, National Gay Blood Drive, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and California Assembly member Evan Low.

Ryan James Yezak, executive director of the National Gay Blood Drive, said his organization “proudly supports” the DONATE Act.

“As long as there is a discriminatory policy in place that reduces the available pool of potential blood donors, then there should be a way to ensure that donors who are unnecessarily deferred can contribute to the blood supply in critical times of need,” Yezak said. “The safety of recipients is the number one priority. Blood collected under the DONATE Act would still follow FDA standards, ensuring the safety of recipients as is done under normal conditions.”

The Washington Blade has placed a request in to comment on Honda’s proposal with the Department of Health & Human Services and the White House.

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the one-year deferral for donation of blood from gay and bisexual men as based on scientific advice.

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

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

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