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Gay Man Speaks Out Against F.D.A.'s Blood Donation Ban

With at least 53 victims suffering from gunshots, ricochets and other wounds, hospitals in the Orlando, Florida, area put out the call for blood donations, and the community responded.

In response to the June 12 massacre at Pulse, an Orlando gay nightclub, thousands of people queued in sweltering temperatures for the opportunity to give blood. The response was so overwhelming that local blood banks began turning people away, NBC News reported. The immediate need was met, and the response overwhelmed the capacity of blood banks.

But one of the groups most impacted by the Orlando massacre was generally turned away from blood banks. Under the old FDA rules, men who have had sexual encounters with other men were banned from giving blood for life. In 2015, the agency revised its rules so that gay and bisexual men who have been celibate for a year can give blood. However, Orlando reportedly still adheres to the FDA's old lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men.

Blake Lynch, a registered nurse and gay man who lives in the Orlando area, described his frustration in a June 15 New York Times editorial.

"Words cannot express my sympathy for the families and friends of those we lost on Sunday," Lynch wrote. "Gay men like me would like the opportunity to give our much-needed, healthy blood to those who are fighting for their lives right now at Orlando Regional Medical Center."

U.S. blood banks can test for HIV, the precursor to the AIDS virus, with Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT), a process that can reveal the presence of HIV in as few as nine days, according to NBC. With much-improved testing methods since the days when the FDA first banned gay men from giving blood, people in the LGBT community say they should be able to give blood just like other people.

"I want to be able to help my brothers and sisters that are out there, that are suffering right now," Garrett Jurss, a gay man, told NBC. "But I can't, and I feel helpless."

The FDA maintains the one-year rule for gay and bisexual men looking to donate blood because of HIV infection rates. Although gay and bisexual men, classified by the CDC as "men who have sex with men," make up about 4 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 78 percent of new HIV cases among men and 63 percent of all new infections in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

It's not just gay men who have to wait -- people who have gotten a tattoo have to wait 12 months before giving blood, according to the Red Cross. Certain diabetics are banned, as are most people on antibiotics and people who have used IV drugs.

Lynch and others say they'll continue to push for changes to blood donation regulations.

"The overwhelming sympathy and support we have received from the public and political leaders show how much progress we have made," Lynch wrote in his New York Times editorial. "But the actions of one person can also make a difference. We must choose to use this moment as a catalyst to continue our fight for equality."

Sources: New York Times, CDC, NBC News, Red Cross / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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