Outraged at being denied the chance to donate blood for the victims of Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando, a coaltion is calling for and end to discriminatory policies related to AIDS transmission.
The Blood Equality coalition – made up of medical experts, scientists and members of the LGBT community – will gather in front of the steps of City Hall on Tuesday morning to protest blood donor policy that requires gay or bisexual men to abstain from sex for a year if they plan to donate blood.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it would be changing its policy, from an indefinite deferral for sexually active gay and bisexual male blood donors to requiring a year's celibacy.
According to the agency, the change better aligns the deferral period for men who have sex with other men with the deferral period for others at increased risk for HIV infection, including those who had a recent blood transfusion or may have been accidentally exposed to someone else's blood.
Tuesday’s event was planned weeks prior to the massacre at the nightclub in Orlando, in which 49 people were killed and 53 wounded, the mass shooting emphasizes the need for a change in policy, organizers said.
According to CNN, as hundreds of people lined up to donate blood for the victims of the terrorist and hate attack, many gay and bisexual men were turned away becasue they didn't meet the celibacy requirement.
“It put us again in another crazy situation where our sisters and brothers are dying and we can’t help,” said Gilles Herrada, an author and biologist who will be speaking during Tuesday’s event.
Herrada said that he remembers the icy feeling down his spine he felt when he attempted to donate blood back when he was in college and was told he could not because he was gay. Although much has changed since then, Herrada says that the policies still are based on fear rather then science.
“Fear feeds fear, we just know that. The more we have policies, we have rules or laws that are based on fearing others, the more we will live in a world that is based and will amplify that fear,” he said.
During Tuesday’s press conference — scheduled for 11 a.m. — the coalition will also announce an upcoming Medical Advisory Board event co-hosted by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the agency FCB Health.
The mission of the Medical Advisory Board, which is part of the Blood Equality campaign, is to bring together experts on blood donation policies, HIV and blood safety to discuss and figure out alternatives to the current policies.
“We are looking for better ways to look at screenings, ways that are less discriminatory,” said Dr. Joseph Barbagallo, medical strategist at FCB Health. “We don’t know the answers at present, but we just feel like there has got to be a better way.”
Barbagallo added that although present screenings are not 100 percent foolproof, which would make allowing everyone to donate not the best solution, there are tests that show results from screenings in seven to 10 days.
“There is enough science to at least support the notion that this one year deferment is a little overly cautious,” Barbagallo said.
Anthony Hayes, vice president of public affairs and policy for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, added that although the FDA could not make it to Tuesday’s press conference, the coalition does want to have an active and open discussion with the agency in regards to the policies.
“Our goal is to bring together medical experts, doctors to have a science and fact based conversation versus a policy that stigmatizes particular groups of people,” Hayes said.
The FDA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.