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SALT LAKE CITY — A joint resolution at the Utah Legislature urges the federal Food and Drug Administration to change "outdated and discriminatory protocols" for blood donation regarding gay and bisexual men.
SJR11 was introduced Monday by state Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, and was highlighted by the senator during a blood drive held at the Capitol for "all interested blood donors." The drive was arranged by Kitchen to help address ongoing national blood shortages.
In January, the American Red Cross declared the first-ever blood crisis and urged all Americans to donate to help increase supply to combat the "worst blood supply shortage in over a decade."
But some Americans who are willing to answer the call and roll up their sleeves may face barriers in doing so. Zachary Marks expressed frustration at the barriers he faced in his desire to help.
"It's just really discouraging when it's something that I want to do. My body makes blood, healthy blood, and I want to be able to give it to other people. And I can't just because of like one specific label," Marks said Monday.
"The healthy habits that people can have don't matter when it's, like, you mark a box that you're gay, and then all of a sudden it's like you cannot donate at all," he added.
The FDA's current blood donation guidelines require gay or bisexual men to abstain from sexual activity for three months prior to donating blood.
"We need blood, and gay men want to participate," Kitchen said. "Gay men want to be a part of the solution, and there's a lot of gay people in the state of Utah that want to help us with our blood shortage. So, I think it's time for us to lift that ban."
The ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood was imposed in 1983 by the agency during the early years of the HIV epidemic. The ban was lifted in 2015 and amended to allow donations after abstaining from sexual activity for a year — which was later adjusted in 2020 to the current three-month period amid growing pressure and a national shortage of blood donations.
"At the FDA, we want to do everything we can to encourage more blood donations, which includes revisiting and updating some of our existing policies to help ensure we have an adequate blood supply while still protecting the safety of our nation's blood supply," Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, wrote of the change.
The administration stated that the amended policy would remain in place after the COVID-19 pandemic, but advocates are calling for a complete change. The American Medical American Association argued that the policy "singles out and bans blood donors based on their inherent attributes rather than the risk factors they present."
The association added that all blood is tested and donors can be screened. Others argue that the screening process may not flag all infected people. Blood tests can remain negative for a period of 7 to 10 days after someone has been infected, according to the American Red Cross.
The policy is a "holdover from the AIDS crisis" and creates a stigma for gay and bisexual men, Kitchen said, adding that people, no matter their sexual orientation, can contract the virus.
The resolution aims to acknowledge "that outdated and discriminatory protocols of the past are contributing to the current crisis in the nation's blood supply and urges the federal government to pursue with renewed vigor replacement of the categorical, time-based exclusion of gay and bisexual men as blood."
If passed, the resolution presents an opportunity for Utah to lead out on the issue.
"Utah is a really unique place because we've, you know, we've overcome a lot of obstacles with regard to our religious community and our LGBTQ community, and we've come a long way," Kitchen said.
"It's our job as state lawmakers and legislators to focus on good health policy. And at the end of the day, this resolution helps reduce the stigma that gay men carry when it comes to their participation in health care," he said. "We have a lot of education and a long road to go, but with this resolution we have an opportunity to begin to reduce that stigma which just simply isn't true."