PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- In 1983, during the AIDS epidemic, the FDA put a ban on men who have sex with men (MSM) from giving blood in the U.S. On blood donation forms, truthfully answering the questioning, "From 1977 to the present, have you had sexual contact with another male, even once?" will result in a lifetime ban. The ban was to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS through blood transfusions, a problem in the 1980s.
The National Gay Blood Drive is working to change the FDA policy and is holding blood drives in more than 60 cities across the U.S., including Portland at the American Red Cross on Forest Avenue. Activist/filmmaker Ryan James Yezak organizes the blood drive and started it last year. He said the policy is outdated and is preventing healthy american men from donating to the nation's blood supply and helping to save lives. The FDA writes on their website, "Current scientific data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that, as a group, men who have sex with other men are at a higher risk for transmitting infectious diseases or HIV than are individuals in other risk categories. From 2007 through 2010, among adult and adolescent males, the annual number of diagnosed HIV infections attributed to MSM increased, while the numbers of infections attributed to other risks among males decreased." It goes on to say that it would consider changing the ban if scientific data supports it or if there are new approaches to donor screening or testing that ensures blood safety.
The National Gay Blood drives asks for men who have sex with men to attend one of the blood drives to show their willingness to donate, but bring along someone who is eligible to donate in their place. The Portland blood drive will take place from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The banned men will be able to write a message to the FDA, while the eligible allies can fill out a donor nametag with the name of the individual whose place they took. All participants will receive National Gay Blood Drive shirts. Volunteers will send the messages and nametags to the FDA. The group also launched a White House Petition July 1 that asks for the FDA to change the policy. They are looking to get 100,000 signatures by July 30.
The American Red Cross, AABB and America's Blood Centers said they believe the current lifetime deferral for men who have sex with other men should be changed. They said in a joint statement on the American Red Cross's website that "donor deferral criteria should be made comparable with criteria for other behaviors that pose an increased risk for transmission of transfusion-transmitted infections."
Many countries around the world defer men who have sex with men from giving blood. Some countries, including the U.S. also defer women who have sex with MSMs for at least one year.
According to the American Red Cross, only 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to give blood.