Why Can’t Gay Men Donate Blood?

Gays can now donate blood in the UK
“This looks like gay blood! Gross!”

It sounds like a cruel joke, but it’s true—with all we know about HIV, blood, science and medicine, gay men still can’t donate blood … for no good reason at all.

The donation ban dates back to 1983, when we didn’t even know what HIV was, and it’s estimated that lifting it would increase the country’s blood supply by over half a million pints. That means the blood could be used in over a million life-saving procedures. Seems like a good idea, right? And yet the ban’s still in place.

What Science Says

The science definitely does not support the ban. These days, all blood is tested, and HIV can be detected within about nine days of infection. The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees blood donation, recently started allowing gay men to donate blood, but only if they’ve been celibate for the last year. Why one year, when the test can detect HIV after less than two weeks? Nobody really knows.

Even if someone with HIV donated—which does indeed happen occasionally—the tests are so sensitive that the FDA estimates the chances of that blood making it to another person is one in 1.47 million.

You might’ve heard some mounting outrage about the ban earlier this year, after the Pulse nightclub shooting. Back then, queer people lined up around the block to donate blood, but they were turned away. It didn’t matter if they’d tested negative for HIV, or if they hadn’t had sex in years. Gay men simply weren’t welcome.

A Better Way

So, what would be better? Instead of just refusing blood from all gay men, the United States could do what some other countries do: Ask each individual donor about behavior and risk factors. An individualized assessment is highly effective in Italy, for example.

But implementing such a system would take time, even if the FDA started working on it right away. And changes like those will face additional challenges under a Donald Trump presidency.

We Are All Donald Trump’s Victims

That’s because Trump has said he’ll appoint Tom Price as head of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA. Price has already said that he wants to dismantle nondiscrimination protections, which would allow health insurance companies to deny coverage to all gay patients. If you thought the blood ban was bad, wait until gay men start getting turned away from hospitals.

Price also suggested that states shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of health care for gay men, because they engage in behavior that he called “outside the norm.”

That’s a pretty discouraging sign, and potentially indicates that the blood ban won’t be going away anytime soon. Maybe that’s a victory for anti-gay activists, but it’s a huge loss for the families of anyone whose life could have been saved by blood from a gay donor.