A new study by the Food and Drug Administration is reassessing the current restrictions that limit LGBTQ+-identifying men from donating blood.
The study, called Assessing Donor Variability and New Concepts in Eligibility (ADVANCE), plans to conduct further research on the ban by collecting blood donations from 2,000 men to study any risks associated with it. Three of the nation’s largest blood collection agencies — the American Red Cross, OneBlood, and Vitalant — are conducting the study in partnership with the FDA.
Collection centers will be set up for the study in 10 cities, where LGBTQ+ men between the ages of 18 and 30 who are willing to participate can give blood. Anyone wishing to participate will be required to do some paperwork as well, though; they’ll have to fill out a personal questionnaire about themselves and their sexual partners.
Ultimately, the study hopes to test whether donors can be individually assessed and cleared to give blood, rather than issuing a blanket deferral period based on time.
“The ADVANCE study is a first step in providing data that will help the FDA determine if a donor history questionnaire based on individual risk would be as effective as time-based deferral in reducing the risk of HIV in the blood supply,” reads the study’s website. “The ADVANCE study is groundbreaking because it’s the first time a study is being conducted that could result in individual risk assessment for men who have sex with men to donate blood.”
Restrictions were first put in place for LGBTQ+ men in the 1980s as a way for officials to keep HIV and hepatitis B out of the blood supply. To do this, LGBTQ+ men were banned for life from giving blood. In 2015, that restriction was loosened to a one-year deferral period — AKA any LGBTQ+ man wishing to give blood would have to abstain from sex for a year. However, that period was shortened by the FDA to a three-month deferral period in April due to blood shortages caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The donation restrictions for LGBTQ+ men have long been criticized as homophobic. While men who have sex with men are still the leading carrier of HIV and hepatitis B, they are not the only group to do so, and limiting the entire community’s ability to give blood is clearly a discriminatory practice rather than a safety one.