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Gay And Bisexual Men Have Long Been Restricted As Blood Donors. A New Study Could Change That

A person wearing purple loves works on a bag of donated blood. Blood vials and a laptop keyboard are also visible.
FILE: A Red Cross technician prepares a bag of donated blood at a drive in San Diego last April. During the pandemic a critical need for blood donations spurred relaxation of some of the regulations on gay and bisexual men donating blood. A new study is aimed at determining if the restrictions are needed with advanced screening now available.
(Ariana Drehsler
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles LGBT Center will help recruit participants in a study that could change a decades-long restriction on who can donate blood.

It's part of a nationwide pilot program to find better ways to screen potential blood donors, based on their individual risk of contracting HIV.

The FDA banned blood donations from gay and bisexual men in the early 1980s, over fears about the spread of HIV/AIDS. And while the federal government somewhat relaxed those rules last year, due to blood supply shortages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates have worked for years to change that policy for good — saying it stigmatizes people living with HIV, and discriminates against men who identify as gay or bisexual.

Last year, 20 state attorneys general joined together to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to further ease rules on gay and bisexual men donating blood.

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Risa Flynn, the director of research at the L.A. LGBT Center, said the study will help further equality and inclusion in public health practices.

"The people who participate in our research studies say — over and over again — that it's important to them to participate because they are contributing to science and knowledge directly through their volunteering," Flynn said. "That's the way HIV medications were developed and this is another example of that."

Flynn says the FDA's restrictions are outdated due to advances in blood-testing technology, as are the questions on its donor screening questionnaires. The study is also being supported by the American Red Cross, OneBlood, and Vitalant — the three largest blood donation groups in the United States.

The L.A. center is one of eight nationwide responsible for recruiting between 250 and 300 gay and bisexual men, ages 18 to 39. You can learn more about the study at advancestudy.org.

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