Sexuality and scarcity: Queer men and the blood donation shortage

Riley Carroll, Contributing Writer

Trigger Warning: Mention of sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted diseases and blood.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every aspect of our complex society was thrown into disarray as the country was hurled into shortages of all sorts. While the most notable products flying off the shelves included surgical masks, toilet paper and cleaning products, the medical community struggled immensely with blood shortages on top of caring for COVID-19 patients. Due to the earth-shattering effects of the pandemic, many blood donation services were forced to shut down or turn away donors in the name of public safety. Even now, after the pandemic has settled to a manageable degree, health professions are in a severe blood deficit. 

Robertson Davenport, M.D., head of Michigan Medicine, explains the risk in delaying patients’ operations.

“Now, we have patients on the schedule for operations that were pushed back weeks or even months by the pandemic. A lack of blood could delay them further,” Davenport said. “I can’t emphasize enough how much we need people to step forward and donate or host a blood drive now,” Davenport concludes.

 And while there are many requirements a donor needs to fulfill prior to donation, there are far more requirements for LGBTQIA+ men. The risk of transmitting HIV and AIDS, two sexually transmitted diseases that primarily impact the gay community globally, has made it difficult for the medical community to receive queer donors. Now is the time to reduce the requirements for queer men to donate blood in order to assist the health professionals in their blood shortage and give LGBTQIA+ individuals the opportunity to donate freely.

As stated by the Human Rights Campaign, “In 1983, the FDA banned gay and bisexual men from ever being eligible to donate blood to protect people receiving blood transfusions from the possibility of getting infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.”

 Following this, the FDA lightened their ruling to a 12 month period of abstinence, also referred to as a deferral period, prior to blood donations for queer men. As of April 2020, the current policy for LGBTQIA+ males donating blood is that they must have a three-month deferral period prior to donating. 

However, this deferral period is not a particularly reasonable option due to the amount of sexual intercourse an average adult engages in. In an article from “Better” by the Today Show, “… a 2017 study that appeared in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that the average adult currently enjoys sex 54 times a year, which equates to about once a week.” Acknowledging the frequency of intimacy the average adult experiences, the three-month deferral period seems increasingly less plausible. 

The medical community has also explored alternative options to assist in the blood shortage, such as implementing the use of synthetic blood. However, the reaction from the public in response to this has brought about extreme skepticism. The safest option would be to continue relying on authentic blood from real people which would require changing the current policy.

To combat the skepticism toward synthetic blood and the illogical deferral period, we should shift our focus to STD tests. STD tests are cheaper than artificial blood and are a lot faster to conduct than a three-month period of abstinence. This will not only give queer men their blood donating freedoms as they should be allowed, but it will also help the health professionals get back on the right track through their blood deficit.

Another reasonable alternative would be to accept donations from queer men that are on medication like Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV, AIDS and other STDs. According to the CDC, “PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99%.” This nearly eliminates the risk of transmitting HIV through blood donations. This could be verified through prescription records and medical history to eliminate the risk of transmission.

In the end, I believe that the severe demand for blood and the rights of queer men outweigh the minuscule risk of transmitting HIV. Even then, the small risk can be minimized further with STD tests and proof of medication rather than continuing with the three-month deferral period. As stated on the Red Cross Blood website, “Blood and platelet donations are critically needed to help prevent delays in vital medical treatments.” These blood donation restrictions can help alleviate a portion of the blood deficit’s pressures and grant more freedoms to queer men.