June 20, 2016 at 5:13 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Baldwin leads new call to lift gay blood ban after Orlando
Tammy Baldwin, Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Wisconsin, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Tammy Baldwin is leading a renewed call for the FDA to change its gay blood ban. (D-Wis.). (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is leading a group of U.S. senators in a renewed call in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting to lift the ban prohibiting gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

The letter, dated June 20 and signed by 24 senators, draws on the shooting that left 49 dead and 53 wounded to call for a change in current policy, which requires men to abstain from sex with other men for a full year before being allowed to donate blood.

“We have witnessed that compassion as Floridians quickly lined up to donate blood for the wounded,” the letter says. “Yet, some of those most touched by this tragedy — members of the LGBT community, who are especially eager to contribute to the response effort — are finding themselves turned away. Due to the FDA’s current MSM deferral policy, many healthy gay and bisexual men remain prohibited from donating needed blood.”

Among the signers of the letter is Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), giving the letter a blemish of bipartisanship. Kirk is facing a difficult re-elect challenge this November against Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth.

The Food & Drug Administration implemented the policy late last year in place of the 1983 lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men if they even once had sex with other men.

Tara Goodin, a FDA spokesperson, said the agency is “reviewing the letter and will respond directly to the writers.”

“At this time there is an adequate supply of blood to meet the need, and the scientific evidence is not available to support an alternative to the current deferral policy,” Goodin said. “We empathize with those who might wish to donate, but reiterate that at this time no one who needs blood is doing without it. That being said, the FDA is committed to continuing to reevaluate its blood donor deferral policies as new scientific information becomes available. ”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the gay blood ban during a White House news briefing last week, saying it was based on scientific evidence.

“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 is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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