Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project Staff Attorney

More than a dozen U.S. Senators, including Michigan’s own Carl Levin, have sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging them to lift the ban on gay men donating blood.

Since 1983, the FDA has prohibited men who have had sex with other men, even once, since 1977 from ever donating blood. At the time the ban was instituted, there was no standard test for detection of HIV and no procedure for screening all donors for certain high-risk behaviors. That is not the case now.

Both the American Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers have called the ban “medically and scientifically unwarranted,” and the Council on Science and Public Health at the American Medical Association has advocated modifying the lifetime deferral requirement.

There is an unscientific double standard inherent in the FDA’s deferral policy. Prospective donors who have engaged in heterosexual activity with a person known to have HIV are deferred for one year. At the same time male donors who engaged in “safe” or protected homosexual activity with a monogamous partner 33 years ago are deferred for life.

As a result of this ban, healthy blood donors are turned away and our blood supply is not necessarily safer for it. It is time for the FDA to review and modify its ban on gay men donating blood, consistent with a sensible health and safety policy for blood screening. Gay men should not all be painted with the brush of high risk sexual activity or the assumption that they are HIV positive.