FDA: Protecting blood supply from AIDS might “offend” straight people

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said this week that it will not ask potential blood donors about their high-risk sexual behavior, even if the questions would help ensure the safety of the nation’s blood supply from HIV/AIDS, because heterosexual donors might find the questioning “offensive.”

This, after decades of the FDA asking male blood donors if they are gay, and then asking the gay ones whether they have had sex with men at any time since the late 1970s.

Philadelphia NPR station WHYY-FM has the FDA’s incredible comment:

“Assessment of high-risk sexual behaviors would be highly burdensome on blood donation establishments and potentially offensive to donors,” the agency wrote.

The new FDA statement comes on the heels of last week’s change in the agency’s long-standing gay-ban on blood donations. Previously, no man who had had sex with even one man since the late 1970s could donate blood.  Now, under the new policy, the FDA asks male donors if they’ve had sex with another man in the past 12 months.

closet gay rights lgbt

“Does this closet look small on me?”
via Shutterstock

There have been protests against the new FDA policy, arguing that it’s outdated because blood tests can now detect HIV within weeks of exposure — so asking gay men to be celibate for a year before donating is unreasonable and unnecessary.

The protesters also asked why the FDA isn’t asking all donors about their high-risk sexual behavior — behavior that raises the chances of contracting HIV — regardless of whether the act is opposite- or same- sex. That last question is what precipitated the FDA’s new response about offending straight donors.

So to recap, the FDA believes that a total stranger asking a man if he’s gay — a highly personal, and for some embarrassing, admission that could get you fired from your job, and disowned by your family — is not “offensive.”

Nor is it offensive to ask a gay man when the last time is he screwed another guy.

But if you ask a straight man whether he’s monogamous, how non-monogamous he is (how many different partners he’s had), and whether he use condoms during intercourse, suddenly the FDA becomes a collective prude.

I try not to over-use the word “homophobia.” But the FDA’s response to this mess is deplorable, offensive, and homophobic. I’ve been through the FDA’s gay-blood-interrogation, and it was horrific.

It was the second half of the 1980s, I was very much in the closet, and in law school at Georgetown. I was years away from telling even my best friends that I was gay. There was a blood drive on campus, so I went to donate, not fully aware of the FDA ban.

Some woman I didn’t know asked me if I was gay. I was flabbergasted. I suddenly found myself between the Scylla and Charybdis of outing myself to a total stranger — when I had yet to out myself to any straight people anywhere — or lying and giving blood, even though my blood was supposedly at risk of containing HIV, and I might infect a total stranger with what was then a death sentence.

I don’t need any lectures from the FDA about what constitutes burdensome or offensive.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in New York City, and is the cofounder of TimeToResign.com. Bio, .

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  • gary47290

    The “intrusive” objection is ridiculous. And unscientific. They can addres the safety issues with two questions. 1. Have you ever tested for Hiv or hepatitis, and what was the result? 2. Have you had sex in the last 12 months with anyone other than your spouse or primary partner? (If you began a new relationship, answer yes.)

  • 2karmanot

    You found the troll truffle Mike! :-)

  • 2karmanot

    ” using science, it is reasonable to be suspicious of gay donors.” ROTFL Oh Please!

  • If they test all blood what does it matter? Some meth head could have hep c and HIV and who knows what else but as long as he didn’t put his dick in some guy’s butt he’s fine to donate?

  • dcinsider

    I agree, but that does defy logic based on what I know about the FDA, which by all accounts is an excellent organization run by well-meaning scientists.

    It seems like they are just totally tone deaf on this issue.

  • dcinsider

    I understand they already do that, as many people have had Hepatitis, and that is also a no-no for donation.

  • dcinsider

    Wow. Just wow.

  • How is there any scientific basis for the recommendations when the entire premise is completely negated by the ease of someone simply lying, and donating anyway? Basing donation recommendations on statistics is not scientific, it’s gambling. Attempting to weed out undesirables by simply hoping that anyone who believes they’ll be turned away won’t bother to go to all the effort of showing up and lying. In the end, current policy probably also discourages many potential donors who could otherwise provide a healthy donation, but don’t want to go through the process of being scrutinized and potentially rejected for something that they didn’t even realize would disqualify them.

    The only sound policy, based on science, is to have comprehensive testing of every donation made, regardless of who made it. Improving the accuracy and breadth of those tests should be an important public safety issue.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Yes, but ….. they have been able to test the donated blood for almost two decades. Also, for your math to be correct, all gay men would have to be infected with the HIV virus. Please supply the link to the CDC report that you are using. If I read your comment correctly, the virus spreads more widely if gay men are three percent of the male population than if they are 10% of the male population.

    You must believe we are all liars. As soon as testing became available, my first husband and I were tested. We were in a monogamous relationship for 28 years, so there should not have been a problem with me donating my blood for use when I had surgery. Right? The nurse in the office the day I went to donate my blood asked me all the questions, and she said I could not donate. I explained that the blood could only me used for me. She said I still could not donate. After, I called the surgeon’s office, everything was put straight. I couldn’t help feeling there may have been some homophobia there, and the nurse didn’t want to handle my blood.

    Wouldn’t a gay man in a long term, monogamous relationship be safer than a straight man who frequents prostitutes and is promiscuous? Maybe you find it impossible to believe that gay men can be monogamous. You have a definite prejudice against gay men. I’m writing that because of this comment and your previous comments here and on other DISQUS blogs.

  • Moderator3

    Yes, but ….. they have been able to test the donated blood for almost two decades. Also, for your math to be correct, all gay men would have to be infected with the HIV virus. Please supply the link to the CDC report that you are using. If I read your comment correctly, the virus spreads more widely if gay men are three percent of the population than if they are 10% of the population.

    You must believe we are all liars. As soon as testing became available, my first husband and I were tested. We were in a monogamous relationship for 28 years, so there should not have been a problem with my donating my blood for use when I had surgery. Right? The nurse in the office the day I went to donate my blood asked me all the questions, and she said I could not donate. I explained that the blood could only me used for me. She said I still could not donate. After, I called the surgeon’s office, everything was put straight. I couldn’t help feeling there may have been some homophobia there, and the nurse didn’t want to handle my blood.

    Wouldn’t a gay man in a long term, monogamous relationship be safer than a straight man who frequents prostitutes and is promiscuous? Maybe you find it impossible to believe that gay men can be monogamous. You have a definite prejudice against gay men. I’m writing that because of this comment and your previous comments here and on other DISQUS blogs.

  • StealthVoter

    “Nor is it offensive to ask a gay man when the last time is he screwed another guy.
    But if you ask a straight man whether he’s monogamous, how non-monogamous he is (how many different partners he’s had), and whether he use condoms during intercourse, suddenly the FDA becomes a collective prude.”

    The questions and actions taken by the FDA should be based on science only! And the science (per CDC) says that HIV is spread by male-to-male sex at 22 times the rate it is spread by heterosexual contact (assuming a wildly overestimate that 10% of men are gay. Make it 3% and gay man are 80 times more likely to transmit HIV than heterosexual couples).

    Harsh numbers, I know, but scientific facts none the less.

    In other words, using science, it is reasonable to be suspicious of gay donors.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Didn’t you know that we are subhuman, and it’s impossible to offend us?

  • Zorba

    This is stupid. They didn’t mind asking gay men such questions, but heterosexuals are special little snowflakes who might be offended by these questions?
    Give me a break.

  • silas1898

    I gave blood once, in 1988. They made it such a bad experience I never did it again.

  • Indigo

    The FDA knows who the second class citizens are, make no mistake about it.

  • Should be fixed now.

  • The questions asked when you give blood are already quite personal. the people who ask are professional. I don’t think the reason behind this has anything to do with offending straight people. It’s based on anti-gay bias. There’s no other reason not to have changed the rules at least 10 years ago. The questions were valid in 1985, but they test the blood now. If you haven’t had sex in the last three months then there’s no chance you have HIV that won’t show up when they test the blood. Any longer period than that is based on prejudice and not medicine.

  • docsterx

    Sometimes government agencies just don’t see the other side because they don’t know what it’s like to be in a minority (LGBTQ, black, Latino, handicapped, or being a member of another minority.)

    I’d guess that the FDA thinks that we should be grateful that now, within limits, we’ll be allowed to donate blood just like normals,, straights other US citizens. So, to the FDA, we’ve “won” this battle and can now donate. We should be happy with the crumbs. Even if the crumbs we get are different from the crumbs given to others.

    One thing that the FDA doesn’t seem to realize is that when I donate, I really don’t get much out of it but a hole in my arm, a stale cookie and a few moments of warm fuzzies. I’ve taken an hour or more of my time to go to a donor site, fill out paperwork, answer personal questions, get blood tests, vital signs, give a detailed medical and medication history, then (maybe) get drawn. And the unit of blood may get separated into components that can help several other people – not me. I’m not there to help me, I’m there to help someone else. My unit of blood will help unknown strangers who need blood or blood products. So, because the FDA has honored me (let me “win”) by allowing me to give blood to my fellow humans (all of whom may be rabidly homophobic) they think that it’s OK to discriminate by asking different questions that hold me to a different standard. Because, well, we’ve WON, I guess it is a victory of sorts. At least we don’t have to sit in the back of the donor bus.

  • Haviva

    Just ask everyone the same questions, and test all the blood! How hard is that?

  • MoonDragon

    I’ve been donating blood for decades. I’m regularly asked if I use unprescribed, self-injected drugs, engage in sex for money, or have had sexual contact (defined explicitly in the pre-donation pamphlet) with people in a high risk group, or have been in jail. Are they now going to skip these questions, which I’ve never found offensive or embarrassing? .Gee, that’ll speed up the process by a whole three minutes.

  • nicho

    I just read the comments on the linked story — despite the fact one of my New Year’s resolution was not to do that. Pretty homophobic.

  • But that’s the thing, S1amer: In the U.S., blood and plasma donations ARE routinely tested after being drawn, not only for HIV but also hepatitis, chagas, HTLV, West Nile and syphilis. It’s actually required by FDA regs.

    https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/prevention/reduce-your-risk/blood-transfusions-organ-donation/

    Therefore this whole business about telling gay men they need to abstain from donating is bullshit, especially when coupled with not asking heteros if they’ve engaged in risky sex recently.

  • If ever we wanted ironclad proof that the FDA’s policies are intentionally homophobic, here it is.

    Being gay — or a gay male — is not the risk factor. High-risk sex is, regardless who’s doing the screwing or to whom.

  • S1AMER

    Oh, good — I thought I was having deja vu all over again!

  • NMRon

    Who the fuck produces these statements? Obviously no one who’s ever been involved in donating blood or with blood donors.

  • I know, it’s a glitch in WordPress. I’ve asked our tech guy to have a look.

  • slavdude

    OT: John, all of the years now read 2015, so the stories from earlier in the week now appear to occur 11 months from now.

  • S1AMER

    I hope very serious research is going on to develop a good, simple, quick, and inexpensive test that can check all blood shortly after it’s drawn. That way, all comers can contribute without question (or insult!), and any blood that’s unuseable for any reason (various diseases, drugs, whatever) can be disposed of immediately and the rest sent out to save lives.

  • 2karmanot

    Bingo!

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