- Gay filmmaker Yuval David tried to donate plasma in New York but the gay blood ban prevented him.
Gay actor Yuval David tried to donate plasma after recovering from COVID-19 but was unable to do so because of the gay blood ban.
However, his case indicates that officials may be slowly moving to a complete lifting of the ban.
They have indicated that they are reviewing the science behind the ban. Meanwhile LGBT+ campaigners say the delay on lifting the restrictions is placing American lives on the line.
Plasma is the yellow fluid in which blood cells are suspended. And giving plasma from people who have recovered from coronavirus could be a life-saver for those struggling with the virus.
The technique is called convalescent-plasma therapy and dates back to the late 19th century. It is currently being tested as a COVID-19 treatment but early signs are promising.
However, because plasma is a blood product, it is covered by the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on gay and bi men giving blood.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the FDA insisted gay and bi men waited a year after the last time they had sex before donating blood. With blood banks under pressure, they’ve reduced that to three months.
However, Yuval David still couldn’t give blood, even though he only has sex with his husband.
‘I don’t fit the three-month abstinence policy’
Manhattan resident David told CBS New York: ‘I got sick from COVID-19 in mid-March. I was sleeping something like 20 hours a day, I was so physically exhausted.’
When he recovered, he contacted the New York Blood Center to donate plasma, hoping to help other patients.
However, when he told them he is gay, married to a man and had been sexually active with his partner, they turned his blood down. They informed him the FDA’s rules prevent him from donating.
David added: ‘I don’t fit the three-month abstinence policy, but why should I?’
FDA is starting a pilot study with gay blood donors
The FDA responded to the story by telling CBS they are reviewing the ban still further. They said they were ‘considering alternatives’ to the ‘time-based deferral for men who have sex with men’.
The FDA indicated it was hoping to move to ‘an effective individual risk assessment-based blood donor questionnaire’.
This would meet LGBT+ campaigners’ demands that people should only be banned from donating if they are having risky sex, rather than just because they are gay or bisexual.
However, the FDA also said the next step is ‘to commence a pilot study that will enroll about 2,000 men who have sex with men and who would be willing to donate blood’.
For LGBT+ organization GLAAD, also based in New York, this further delay is not good enough.
Sarah Kate Ellis is GLAAD’s president and CEO. She said:
‘The FDA is placing American lives on the line as they debate stigma, not science.
‘During the current crisis, the FDA is wasting time and money on a pilot study when all the scientific research and medical authorities plainly state that gay and bi man should not be restricted from donating blood.
‘All blood donations, regardless of sexual orientation, are screened to ensure healthy samples and now the American Medical Association, leading elected officials, and more than 600 medical professionals have all done the work for the FDA and unequivocally state that this ban needs to end.’
Even without the coronavirus pandemic, blood from gay and bi men would be a lifesaver.
A 2014 study by the Williams Institute estimated that an additional 360,000 men would likely donate, which could help save the lives of more than a million people.
GLAAD has gathered almost 25,000 signatures for a petition demanding the FDA lift the ban.
Hungary and Brazil are the latest to lift the ban
The ban has become a big issue internationally during the COVID-19 crisis.
On Friday (8 May) the Brazil Supreme Court ruled the gay and bi blood ban there is ‘unconstitutional’. The case has rumbled on since 2016 but seven of the 11 Supreme Court justices ruled that the ban on men who have sex with men giving blood couldn’t continue.
And like the US, Australia has moved from a one year wait period to three months. However, again like the US, campaigners there want to get rid of the ban altogether. They say the rules should ban people who engage in risky behavior rather than gay and bi men as a group.
Multiple countries introduced bans on gay and bi men giving blood at the height of the AIDS crisis.
Since then, effective treatment, testing and PrEP have dramatically reduced the risk. Meanwhile, blood banks screen blood for HIV alongside other tests.
At the moment countries including Spain, South Africa, Italy, Russia and Mexico allow gay and bi men to donate blood without a waiting period.
Despite this, countries including Austria, Malaysia and Greece still impose a lifetime ban on gay and bi men’s blood.
And some otherwise fairly LGBT+ friendly countries still have a one-year wait period after sex for gay and bi men. They include Belgium, Ireland and Malta.
Meanwhile the UK and Canada are alongside the USA and Australia in insisting on a three-month ‘abstinence period’ for gay and bi men before donating.