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 stigmitized the LGBTQ+ community for decades. We asked artists to share their stories, feelings, and hopes regarding the ban and the stigma it perpetuated.
An Exhibition of Art Representing Emotion and Opinion Relating to the MSM Ban. A Webinar Featuring These Pieces and Encouraging Conversation Will Be Hosted By the UBI on June 24 at 6 p.m. ET, featuring participating artists and LGBTQ+ activists, including Jason Cianciotto, director of institutional development and strategy at GMHC, who is a leading voice in this issue.
A big thank you to all of our artists that participated and our partners for helping us put on this art exhibition!
COLAGE unites people with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and/or asexual parents into a network of peers and supports them as they nurture and empower each other to be skilled, self-confident, and just leaders in our collective communities.
Founded in 1982, GMHC provides comprehensive HIV/AIDS services to the most vulnerable in New York City in a supportive and inclusive environment. Our mission is the end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected. We believe that community, wellness, and advocacy are keys to protecting and uplifting people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. GMHC strives to provide everyone we serve with a fighting chance for a productive, healthy, and dignified life. The 10,000 clients whom GMHC serves per year are from communities hardest hit by both the HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics: 85 percent live in poverty; 80 percent are people of color; 58 percent are immunocompromised; 40 percent are over age 50; and 16 percent report homelessness at intake. Our comprehensive psychosocial services include advocacy; health benefits; HIV & STI testing; housing & and financial management; legal; meals & nutrition; mental & behavioral health; prevention & community health; substance use; training, education, capacity-building, & research; wellness; and workforce development.
ACT UP — the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power — is a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals, united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis. ACT UP was formed in response to social neglect, government negligence, and the complacency of the medical establishment during the 1980s. They meet with government officials, distribute the latest medical information, and protest and demonstrate. They are not silent. While ACT UP has an incredible history, HIV/AIDS is not history. HIV/AIDS is very much with us. And they call on you to join the fight to end AIDS.