Blood Donation Based on Science, Not Stigma
About the MSM Ban
When it comes to blood donation, there are various different eligibility requirements, making only about 37% of the population actually eligible to donate blood. MSM, or Men who have Sex with Men, which includes gay and bi men, are currently facing bans on blood donation, which cast stigma and ignorance towards LGBTQ+ individuals. This ban originated in the early days of the AIDS crisis, when there was little known about HIV and how it’s transmitted. Given that there was, and still is, a higher prevalence of HIV infections among MSM, they were labeled as “high-risk” donors and, in 1984, were banned from donating blood for life. At first, it meant that no MSM could donate. Then stipulations changed to say that if any man had ever partook in sexual activity with another man since 1977, even once, then they would not be allowed to donate.
Despite the fact that technological developments in HIV testing now allow us to detect exposure to HIV in donors within 7-10 days of infection, the lifetime ban was not changed until 2015, when coalitions of scientists and activists alike argued against it. It was replaced with a year-long deferral, which required MSM to abstain from sexual activity with other men for a year before they could donate. Due to the massive blood shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the FDA has reduced the deferral period to 3 months so that more MSM can donate. However, activists, scientists, and lawmakers are still fighting to replace identity-based deferrals with individual risk-based assessments, so that deferrals are based in science, not stigma.
Recently, there has been an international change in policy, questioning the legitimacy of the ban. The UK revised its ban and lowered limitations on MSM, Italy and Spain implemented an individual risk assessment of sexual behaviors, and the FDA is currently supporting a study conducted by researchers at the American Red Cross, OneBlood, and Vitalant, aimed at reviewing current blood donation policy and analyzing the feasibility of alternative approaches. If the individual risk-based assessment proves to be as effective as we hope, this could lead to a more inclusive and larger blood pool. The revision of these limitations is a big step forward, but despite the progress that’s been made, we hope that science and policy can advance to a point in the future where we can safely reform this ban to lift the stigma it tethers to people in the LGBTQ+ community. We, at the UBI, are committed to joining the efforts of the activists, scientists, and lawmakers who are working together to pave the way for more inclusive donation methods and safety regulations that reflect modern research and progressive thinking.
The MSM ban has been stigmatizing the LGBTQ+ community for decades, and we want to hear your stories, feelings, and hopes towards the ban and the stigma it has perpetuated. We challenge you to create a work of art or poetry to share these experiences and emotions through an artistic lens, effectively channeling art as a medium of advocacy.
There will then be an exhibition of the created works on the UBI website and Instagram, as well as on the websites and/or social media of our participating organizations: ACT UP, COLAGE, and GMHC. With this challenge, we aim to foster the use of art as a medium of advocacy, spread awareness on the issue of the MSM ban, and hopefully spark up thoughtful and conscientious discussions.
If you have any questions, please email the UBI Director of Education, Paula Giraldo, at .
Jordan Eagles is a multimedia artist who uses the blood from MSM to create poignant art pieces that highlight the injustice and loss that results from the MSM ban. Check out his work at jordaneagles.com.