Biden admits blood ban causes LGBT+ people ‘pain’ – but won’t scrap it yet

Joe Biden has admitted that blood donation bans targeting the LGBT+ community have a “painful” legacy – yet is choosing not to scrap them immediately.

The American Red Cross has, for the first time, declared a national crisis as the US faces the “worst blood shortage in over a decade”. The organisation attributed the shortage, in part, due to a drop in blood drives and donations amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers across the country have called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift its effective ban on queer men donating blood. The FDA’s current policy requires that sexually active queer men and people who have sex with queer men abstain from sex for at least three months before they’re allowed to donate blood.

As calls grow louder,  the Biden administration has said blood donation policies should be based on “science” not “stigma”, acknowledging such bans remain a “painful” part of history for the LGBT+ community – but stopping short of ordering immediate change.

A White House official told ABC News: “The legacy of bans on blood donation continues to be painful, especially for LGBTQI+ communities.

“The president is committed to ensuring that this policy is based on science, not fiction or stigma.

“While there are no new decisions to announce at the moment, the FDA is currently supporting the ‘ADVANCE’ study, a scientific study to develop relevant scientific evidence and inform any potential policy changes.”

The restrictions on gay, bisexual and queer men from donating blood came out of the HIV and AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

The US federal government mandated a lifetime blood donation ban for men who have sex with men in 1983.

It wasn’t until 2015 that the lifetime ban was replaced with a one-year abstinence requirement. The FDA then decreased this period to only three months back in April 2021 amid earlier pandemic-induced blood shortages.

A person wearing a face mask and a sticker on their t-shirt donates blood

A person wearing a face mask and a sticker on their t-shirt donates blood during a Children’s Hospital Los Angeles blood donation drive on 13 January 2022. (Patrick T Fallon/AFP via Getty)

The ADVANCE (Assessing Donor Variability And New Concepts in Eligibility) study will evaluate whether eligibility based on an individual’s risk could replace the current time-based deferral system while maintaining the safety of blood supply in the US.

The study, which is funded by the FDA, will recruit a total of 2,000 queer men from eight major cities across the US.

Blood centres will team up with LGBT+ organisations in Washington DC, San Francisco, Orlando, News Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles and Atlanta to find potential participants.

The ADVANCE study was first announced back in 2020, and researchers initially told ABC News that they would be presenting their findings to the FDA in late 2021.

However, the FDA recently confirmed to the news outlet that the study is still ongoing.

LGBT+ organisation GLAAD has called the FDA’s current deferral period a policy that is “out of step with medical experts and modern science”. It added that queer men are “still subject to discriminatory screening” when they come forward to donate blood.

“It’s time to end the ban once and for all,” GLAAD said. “It’s discriminatory, and dangerous for all Americans in a worsening crisis.”

If the deferral period were lifted, GLAAD said it’s estimated that an “additional 360,000 men would likely donate”, which could “help save the lives of more than a million people”.

Other countries – including the UK, France and Greece – have already lifted restrictions on all blood donors.