A worker with Vitalant places a needle on the arm of a blood donor as he prepares to donate blood during the Hoboken community Vitalant blood drive held at Hoboken Rec Center on June 25, 2021 in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images
The American Red Cross is now allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood without restrictions that specifically single out a person’s sexual orientation or gender, the nonprofit group said Monday.
The Red Cross is implementing new Food and Drug Administration screening guidelines that apply to all potential donors and are based on an individual risk assessment. The nonprofit group provides about 40% of the nation’s blood supply.
Under the new FDA guidelines, men in monogamous sexual relationships with other men are eligible to donate as long as they meet other screening criteria. Previously, men who had sex with men had to remain abstinent for three months before donating blood.
The three-month waiting period now applies to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, who has had sex with a new partner or multiple people and has also had anal sex.
The Red Cross said in a statement that the organization understands the blood donation waiting period based on a history of anal sex appears to unfairly target gay and bisexual men.
The nonprofit group said it is working with the FDA to make the blood donation guidelines more inclusive.
The FDA in May dropped a nearly 40-year policy that had singled out men who have sex with men as high risk to the blood supply over concerns about HIV transmission.
Gay rights groups and leading medical associations had long opposed this policy as unnecessary, unsupported by the current science and discriminatory.
The American Medical Association criticized the FDA policy as unfairly singling out gay men rather than looking at a person’s individual risk factors. While gay men faced donation restrictions, even if they had protected sex, straight men and women who had unprotected sex with multiple partners could still donate.
In the wake of the AIDs crisis in the 1980s, the FDA instructed blood donation agencies to not accept blood from men who have sex with men. This policy was in place from 1985 until 2015.
This policy was implemented at a time when HIV was poorly understood and remained in place even as technology significantly improved to screen donations for blood-borne diseases, according to the AMA.
The FDA changed its guidelines in 2015 to allow men who have sex with men to donate blood, but they had to remain abstinent for a year before doing so. The agency shortened the abstinence period to three months in 2020 amid a blood shortage during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Those taking oral medication to prevent HIV infection, called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, still have to wait three months from their last dose to donate blood. People taking long-acting PrEP injections have to wait two years before donating.
Anyone who has ever tested positive for HIV remains permanently barred from donating blood.