Evan Low, mayor of Campbell, Calif., was rejected from giving blood at a drive that he hosted for the American Red Cross earlier this month. Despite being in good health, Low says he was turned away from donating because of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) longtime ban on gay blood donors. Now, the mayor has started an online petition to end the ban and get perfectly healthy blood to people who need it.
"After some questions, including that if you have sexual contact with another male, I was deferred," said Low. "It's certainly ironic that I can host a blood drive, but I can't donate blood myself. So let's use this opportunity to demonstrate that there are members in our community that want to contribute of themselves to sacrifice and save the lives of others."
The FDA’s ban on gay donors was implemented in 1983 at the height of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) outbreak. In the 80s, doctors and the public alike were unsure about what AIDS was and how exactly it was spread. During that time, the nation’s blood supply became contaminated with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). More than half of the 17,000 patients seeking treatment with donor blood contracted HIV as a result of the bad blood. Many of those patients died.
The FDA is currently examining its policy, which prohibits blood donations from gay, bisexual, or otherwise categorized men who have sex with men (MSM) from 1977 until today. However, the agency also says that its policy is for the protection of patients, without the intent to be discriminatory.
"FDA's deferral policy is based on the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor's sexual orientation," an FDA spokesman said.
This year marks the 30th year of the gay donor ban.
Low began his petition on Aug. 9 and it already has close to 20,000 signatures. He hopes that by putting his name on the cause, he can help raise awareness about a practice that is keeping healthy blood away from patients who need it. He said that he will not stop having blood drives in his town, despite currently being unable to donate, because the blood is necessary to save lives.
“We are behind in our policies in comparison with other countries,” wrote Low. “Both Canada and the UK in recent years have lifted their lifetime ban restrictions. Regardless, blood donations save lives, and although I take issue with the FDA's policy, the communal need for an adequate and safe blood supply cannot be ignored.”