Maloney Pushes Effort to End LGBTQ+ Discrimination in Blood Donations
WASHINGTON, DC — Today, ahead of the 5 year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) joined with Reps. Val B. Demings (D-FL), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Adam B. Schiff (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Ritchie Torres (D-NY) in sending a letter to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock in strong support of the Assessing Donor Variability and New Concepts in Eligibility (ADVANCE) Study.
On June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed and 53 others shot and injured at the Pulse Nightclub, an LGBTQ+ gathering place in Orlando. The community rallied to support the victims and survivors, but many gay and bisexual men were prohibited from donating desperately needed blood due to outdated and discriminatory FDA donor policies.
The ADVANCE Study, which includes efforts in Orlando and elsewhere around the country, seeks to modernize the science and collect new data to ensure that these outdated policies can be safely and finally overturned.
“For too long, outdated restrictions have prevented gay and bisexual men who can safely donate their blood from doing so. These blanket restrictions are discriminatory and wrong,” said Rep. Maloney. “When blood is urgently needed across this country—like it was in New York City at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and in Orlando following the tragedy at Pulse Nightclub—everyone should be able to do their part. But for too many gay and bisexual men, the FDA’s current policies are a barrier to helping their communities. And as a result, we are all worse off. The ADVANCE Study is a crucial step toward ensuring that our nation’s health policies are based on science, not stigma.”
“Being part of the ADVANCE Study has been rewarding, especially knowing that this could be a catalyst to changing the policies as it pertains to gay and bisexual men donating blood,” said Dr. George A. Wallace, Executive Director for The Center. “For members of the LGBTQ+ community, the study is a significant step in the right direction. We are hopeful the study will conclude that state-of-the-art testing of the blood supply, combined with an individual risk assessment, will support a change to the blood donor deferral policy so that gay and bisexual men can be considered potential donors. This will also increase the pool of eligible blood donors and help communities far and wide.”
“We applaud the FDA’s decision to launch a pilot study that will utilize an individual blood donation questionnaire to assess risk factors that could indicate possible infection with a transfusion transmissible infection, including HIV,” the Members wrote. “We appreciate that the FDA has been willing to engage in discussions specific to the MSM deferral policy and revise guidance following Pulse, which included modifying the blanket ban to 12-months and again to 3-months deferral periods. These are steps in the right direction, but ultimately reductions in the ban should not be tied specifically to sexual orientation or disaster-based supply issues. An individual’s personal risk profile, regardless of sexual orientation and based on scientific and technological progress, should guide the policy.”
Current FDA policy bans blood donors who are men who have had sex with other men within the last three months. In 1983 when the policy was put in place, it was in the form of a lifetime ban on gay men from donating. This was changed to a year-long deferral in 2015, and three months in 2020. In 1983, there was no way to screen blood for HIV. Today, however, all donated blood is screened, leaving this policy woefully out of date.
In April, Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney, Adam B. Schiff, Mike Quigley, Barbara Lee, and Ritchie Torres led their colleagues in introducing a resolution highlighting the urgent need for equitable, science-based blood donation policies in the United States.
The advancement of the ADVANCE Study is a voluntary move which puts the FDA in compliance with the goals of the Science in Blood Donation Act, introduced by Reps. Val Demings and Mike Quigley last year. Prior to the study’s announcement in December, the FDA had resisted calls to utilize a scientifically based risk assessment. The Science in Blood Donation Act and the Members’ resolution were key steps that encouraged FDA to further reevaluate this outdated policy.
As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, researchers are recruiting men in Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles to participate in the study.