A cadre of 17 senators — including six former presidential hopefuls and one current candidate — are calling on the Food & Drug Administration to take another look at the ban prohibiting gay and bisexual men from donating blood amid the coronavirus crisis.
In a letter dated March 26, the senators take note Trump administration health officials, including U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, have made urgent pleas for blood donations to address a shortage in the blood supply during the pandemic.
“In light of this shortage, we urge you to swiftly update blood donor deferral policies in favor of ones that are grounded in science, are based on individual risk factors, do not unfairly single out one group of individuals, and allow all healthy Americans to donate,” the letter says.
The senators says current policy — which bars gay and bisexual men who have sex with other men in past 12 months from blood donations — is “antiquated and stigmatizing.”
“While government health officials encourage every healthy individual to consider donating blood, the FDA continues to enforce a discriminatory donor deferral policy that effectively prohibits many healthy gay and bisexual men from doing so,” the letter says.
According to the letter, AABB, formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks, has predicted 355,000 fewer blood donations as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The FDA didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the letter, but an FDA spokesperson earlier told the Blade the agency is keeping the gay blood ban for now.
“At this time, FDA’s recommendations regarding blood donor deferral for men who have sex with men have not changed, but we will continue to reevaluate the situation as the outbreak progresses,” the spokesperson said.
Leading the letter is Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only out lesbian in the U.S. Senate, as well as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who are former 2020 presidential candidates.
Former presidential 2002 hopefuls Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also signed the letter. (Brown never actually ran, but publicly weighed a candidacy before saying he wouldn’t pursue the presidency.)
Also signing the letter is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who’s still running for the Democratic presidential nomination. A spokesperson for Sanders campaign has told the Blade if elected president, Sanders would lift the gay blood ban.
It’s not the first time these senators have called on the FDA to change policy. Baldwin and Warren have repeatedly led joint letters calling for a change in recent years, although this is the first time they have spoken up during a call for donations during the coronavirus crisis.
Renewing their demand to FDA, the senators take note the availability of PrEP to prevent HIV infection makes the gay blood ban even more unnecessary.
“With the increased uptake of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which reduces the likelihood that an HIV-negative individual will acquire HIV, many more gay and bisexual men are aware of their HIV-negative status and are taking steps to effectively eliminate their personal risk of HIV transmission,” the letter says. “As such, it is imperative that we move away from discriminatory donor deferral policies that prohibit many healthy individuals from contributing much-needed blood and blood products.”
In 1983, the FDA had implemented a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. During the Obama administration in 2015, that policy was eased to a ban on donations from men who’ve had sex with the men in the past year — but restrictions nonetheless remain in place.
The White House hasn’t responded to the Blade’s request to comment on whether President Trump, who has built an anti-LGBTQ record, will call on the FDA to lift the ban.
In LGBTQ policy platform, Vice President Joseph Biden has said as president he’d implement a blood donation “based on science,” but has stopped short of explicitly pledging to lift the ban on donations from gay men.