NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Giving blood was always a confusing thing for Jace Wilder.
“Do I qualify?” he asked. “Am I disqualified from this, especially as a bisexual trans man?”
For the last 40 years, restrictions have been in place for gay and bisexual men wanting to donate blood.
“It’s kind of a question mark of how the FDA was handling it, and it made me very deterred, and I know that for a lot of individuals who have similar identities to me that they felt deterred as well,” explained Wilder, who is the education manager for the Tennessee Equality Project, as well as an LGBTQ policy researcher at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Back in 1983, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instituted a lifetime deferral on blood donations for men who have sex with men. The policy was revised in 2015 to a one-year deferral, and then again in 2020 to a three-month deferral for such men.
“Seeing the restrictions and the policies there makes them more hesitant to trust public health and the FDA,” said Wilder.
However, all of that has officially changed.
On Thursday, May 11, the FDA updated its policy to eliminate the current time-based restrictions and screening questions specific to men who have sex with men.
Under the new guidance, health officials said all potential donors — regardless of sexual orientation, sex, or gender — will complete a series of “individual, risk-based questions.”
“All prospective donors who report having a new sexual partner, or more than one sexual partner in the past three months, and anal sex in the past three months, would be deferred to reduce the likelihood of donations by individuals with new or recent HIV infection who may be in the window period for detection of HIV by nucleic acid testing,” the FDA stated in Thursday’s announcement.
“I think that this follows the science,” said Dr. Liz Culler, the chief medical officer for Blood Assurance.
According to Culler, scientific evidence from the United Kingdom and Canada helped the FDA revise its policy.
“Both of those countries have similar HIV positivity rates in their general population very similar to the United States,” she said. “They have adopted these new policies, and they did not see an increase in transfusion-transmitted HIV.”
Since Blood Assurance was established, Culler said 60 potential donors in Tennessee have been deferred under the old policy.
However, Culler hopes this big change will bring in more donors.
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“You’re giving back to your community, and we just need everyone to be a part of that,” she said.
Wilder also believes this is possible now that restrictions are loosening up.
“It truly should feel empowering to know that we are moving on from the stigma and the ideations around HIV, especially how it affected the LGBTQ community, and really moving forward in the public health aspect,” he said.
Meanwhile, Blood Assurance will start working to change its computer systems and undergo training. Culler said officials believe it should take about six months before they can start accepting blood donations from gay and bisexual men under the FDA’s new guidelines.
If you want to sign up to donate blood, visit Blood Assurance’s website.