The Red Cross Takes a Step in the Right Direction

By: Morgan Collins

The AIDS epidemic was a hysterical time in American history that created many stigmas and harmful policies towards openly gay men. In this time of mass panic, much legislation was put in place which took away personal rights and dignity from the group of people the government felt to be “the biggest threat.” While these actions may have been justified in the 1980s-1990s, many of these restrictions still apply which create a large isolation factor between openly gay men and the rest of the population. With the research that has been conducted on the matter and the now known fact that HIV can infect anyone no matter their sexual orientation, many people are still confused as to why these restrictions are still in place? 

The American Red Cross and the Food and Drug Association (FDA) are at the helm of this controversy. For many years now the American Red Cross paired with the FDA forbade openly gay men from donating blood. The notion of openly gay men donating blood was always discouraged by this organization. However, problems started to arise when they placed a complete ban on the matter in the 1980s. This prohibition placed a serious restriction on the human rights of gay men. With the high fear of HIV and AIDS transmission, this restriction was left in place until 2015. This was followed by another lighter restriction that said gay men could donate blood if they had not had sexual encounters with another man within a year’s period. This was yet another unfair regulation that did not invoke the change people had planned. Since it is impossible to guarantee that donors met the guidelines the organization was still leery about allowing donation from gay men. 

Ironically, the hysteria caused by the Covid-19 pandemic was a key factor to bringing down these unfair regulations. During the pandemic there was a large blood shortage which led to the Red Cross changing the regulation to 3 months instead of a year in 2020. Although it was a step in the right direction, it was still a discriminatory regulation that was still in effect 40 years after the AIDS epidemic. Currently, the fight continues to dismantle all donation requirements aimed at members of the LGBTQ+ community. A new method of questioning is being created in hopes that these controls will be lifted. The new method consists of a questionnaire that will ask about recent sexual history, sexual disease, and other risk factors. This continues to be a step in the direction of equality; however, it is another unnecessary impediment placed in the way of gay men donating blood. All blood, no matter who the donor is, is rigorously tested for HIV as well as other STIs like syphilis. It does not cost the Red Cross any additional resources to eliminate the questionnaire and simply test the blood like they would for any other donor. The argument for this is that the tests are not accurate and some contaminated blood samples slip by. However, the risk of this happening is 10 in 12 million blood samples, which simply does not happen often enough to warrant losing the additional donor pool that they have been turning away for half a century. 

This new method of donor questioning is planned to enter donation sites in the next few years. Long overdue, gay men and other members of the LGBTQ+ community will be able to become regular donors like the rest of the population. While the United States is behind in this step, with other countries like Canada, Mexico, Israel, France, Italy, and Greece having a zero limit policy, it is a step in the right direction to ensuring equality. Additionally, The American Red Cross has revised their core values now saying “The American Red Cross believes blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation. We are committed to working with partners toward achieving this goal.” All there is to do now is to wait and hope that these wrongly placed restrictions are dismantled thus creating a more inclusive healthcare system.