There’s an Urgent Need for Blood Donors in Orlando. Most Gay Men Still Can’t Donate.

Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters in Florida during investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

Reuters/Steve Nesius

Following the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse, an LGBT nightclub, there is an urgent need for blood donations to help the dozens of injured victims. The vast majority of gay and bisexual men, however, remain legally barred from donating blood.

Under recently revised Food and Drug Administration rules, only gay men who have been celibate for a full year will be permitted to donate. That includes gay men in monogamous, long-term relationships. Heterosexual people who have unprotected sex with multiple anonymous partners are permitted to donate at any time. The de facto ban on gay blood donation is utterly unsupported by science and has been abolished by other countries—but the FDA remains extraordinarily hesitant to loosen rules on gay blood donation in America. It banned gay and bisexual blood donation outright in 1983, and only instituted the one-year deferral policy in late 2015. Its hesitation to allow gay blood donation often appears to arise out of fundamental distrust of gay men.

Because of these rules, most gay men are now legally forbidden from doing the one thing that could directly aid those injured in their community—for reasons based not on science, but on homophobia and fear. As their friends perish from bullet wounds, gay men in Orlando today are condemned to do nothing but watch helplessly. 

Update, June 12, 2016: Reports have circulated that OneBlood, an Orlando donation center, is accepting gay blood donors today. However, OneBlood has stated these reports are false.