GLENS FALLS — There was an angry local reaction after a gay man was recently turned away at a blood drive at his church.
David Morrison of Warrensburg was refused when he tried to donate recently at a Red Cross blood drive at his church, the Christ Church United Methodist Church of Glens Falls.
Several people called for a boycott against the Red Cross, while others defended the nonprofit organization, which had said it had no choice but to follow federal Food and Drug Administration rules.
But the Red Cross now says it supports the rule, which prohibits donations from men who have sex with other men. The ban is in force even if the man has a monogamous partner and uses protection, while people who have unprotected sex with multiple partners of the opposite sex are allowed to donate blood.
In some countries, every blood donation is tested to make sure it does not have HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis A and other diseases that can be transmitted through blood to the recipient.
But in the United States, blood donations are pooled and then tested in groups of six or more. That means a positive test loses far more than just one blood donation. And the FDA is concerned about infectious blood slipping through the test process, so officials want to reduce the chance of such blood getting donated at all.
Last year, the FDA reduced the ban on gay men donating blood. Previously, it was a lifetime ban for any man who ever had sex with another man. Now it’s 12 months. But for gay men, the ban is still essentially a lifetime ban.
When a gay man who has volunteered regularly with his church on Red Cross blood drives was turned away, the Red Cross said it wasn’t their rule. They just had to follow FDA rules, they said.
But, later, Red Cross officials acknowledged they aren’t objecting to the rule in any way. However, they are helping the FDA gather more data on the issue, which could lead to changes in the future.
“Please know, the Red Cross continues to actively gather additional scientific risk data to assist the FDA in determining the safety of further changes regarding men who have sex with men (MSM) in the future,” said Dr. Susan Stramer, vice president of scientific affairs. “However, it is too early to determine what additional changes to the FDA’s MSM policy are warranted until more data are available.”
She noted that the Red Cross can’t simply test donors when they arrive. To achieve the best results, according to the FDA, gay men would have to be tested, then return and be tested again several weeks later after remaining abstinent for that period of time.
But she did not explain why the Red Cross would not simply test every blood sample. The FDA dismissed that idea last year as being too costly in comparison to the small number of gay men who would donate blood.
Now local residents are considering a boycott to show the Red Cross that it must push the FDA to drop the ban altogether. They are not alone in fighting the issue: FDA officials said they rethought the ban last year partly because they believe many gay men have been lying about their sexual history so that they can donate blood.