WASHINGTON -- In the hours following Sunday's mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, local officials made urgent appeals for people to donate blood. But gay and bisexual men were not welcome.
Under a Food and Drug Administration policy that dates back to 1985 -- the dawning of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. -- gay and bisexual men are banned from giving blood. The ban, which originally prohibited donations for life, was revised last year, when the FDA said it would only apply to men who have had sex with other men in the previous 12 months.
A group of lawmakers, pointing to the dire need for blood donations in the wake of the Orlando slaughter, said Monday it's time to change the policy.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said lifting the ban doesn't require legislation -- it simply requires action by the FDA.
"The fact that loved ones, and friends, and spouses of victims were unable to donate blood showed the moral bankruptcy of the ban," Polis, co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, told HuffPost. He said the FDA should move toward "behavior-based criteria" for blood donations.
"It's ridiculous that a straight person can have unprotected sex with multiple partners and donate, but a monogamous gay or bisexual man cannot," Polis said. He added that the ban is "rooted in bigoted policies."
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) began circulating a letter Monday evening among lawmakers in Congress that they plan to send to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf. The letter urges Califf to "swiftly" end the ban, and to "promote a less discriminatory system."
"Given the target, nature and timing of this particular attack, the LGBT community is especially eager to contribute to the response effort," lawmakers wrote. "We are concerned that the 12-month deferral policy, which suggests that the sexual relationships of [gay and bisexual] men and transgender women inherently pose a risk of HIV transmission, furthers a stigma that we have persistently fought to eliminate."
Quigley joined Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in issuing a joint statement that called the 12-month deferral policy “unacceptable,” and “discriminatory."
“Tragedies like the one we witnessed in the early morning hours on Sunday show how crucial it is for FDA to develop better blood donor policies that are based on science and on individual risk factors; that don’t unfairly single out one group of individuals; and that allow all healthy Americans to donate,” the lawmakers said.
The FDA defended the 12-month deferral when it changed its policy last year, saying it was based on the best available science.