FDA Panel: Don’t Let Gay Men Give Blood

It’s too risky even after a year of celibacy, experts conclude—as LGBT activists seethe.


It turns out, in the eyes of the Food and Drug Administration’s experts, that even a year without sex isn’t enough to guarantee the safety of blood donated by gay men.

Last week, the agency’s Blood Products Advisory Panel met to discuss revoking the agency’s 32-year-old prohibition on gay men donating blood. The prohibition, introduced during the early days of the AIDs crisis, forbid any man who had had gay sex since 1977 from giving blood—regardless of the circumstances or how long it had been since his last sexual encounter. The rule has remained unchanged, despite vast improvements in our medical knowledge of HIV and AIDS, and our ability to screen blood samples to ensure they’re free of disease.

The proposed loosening of a ban on gay blood donations “was met with an alarming amount of resistance that I just didn’t expect.”

Activists were hopeful that the FDA’s 17-member panel would vote to revoke the rule. Last month, a different committee of medical experts convened by the Department of Health and Human Services voted 16-2 in favor of a hypothetical rule that would let men give blood so long as they had not had sex with another man for at least a year. And while even this may be overkill—modern blood tests can detect HIV within a few weeks of infection—it is less discriminatory than the current ban.

Yet that modest step was too much for the FDA’s experts, who wrapped up last week’s meeting without voting on the proposal. “There’s too many questions in science that aren’t answerable,” one panelist concluded. “It sounds to me like we’re talking about policy and civil rights rather than our primary duty, which is transfusion safety,” noted another.

The panel’s calls for further research before lifting the ban left LGBT activists frustrated. “It was met with an alarming amount of resistance that I just didn’t expect,” said Ryan James Yezak, founder of the National Gay Blood Drive, who gave a presentation for the panel. He was taken aback by the claim that there’s not enough research to determine whether loosening the ban on donations would pose a risk to the blood supply. “That’s simply not true,” Yezak told me. “There is evidence that supports moving to a one-year deferral, at the minimum.”

He cited, for example, a study of Australia’s one-year deferral policy, and support for a similar policy from organizations such as the Red Cross and American Medical Association. But the committee wasn’t swayed. “I felt like it went in one ear and out the other,” Yezak said. “I may as well have not been there, because I don’t feel like the discussion reflected what happened at the HHS meeting.”

The FDA could still approve the one-year deferral plan without the endorsement of its Blood Products Advisory Panel, but there’s no timeline for considering such a decision, and the agency isn’t in the habit of rewriting rules against the recommendations of its own experts.


In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.