CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships may be able to donate blood, under a proposed change from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

What You Need To Know

  •  FDA proposed changes to blood donor eligibility would allow gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships to donate blood 
  •  The draft guidance will switch questionnaires to individual risk-based regardless of sexual orientation
  •  Jesse Elkins, who has two partners, would not be allowed to donate blood with the changes 

Friday, the agency issued a draft guidance to evaluate donor eligibility based on individual risk-based questions, regardless of sexual orientation, to reduce risk of transfusion-transmitted HIV. The agency said it is in line with policies in the United Kingdom and Canada. 

Amid an urgent need for blood donations in 2020, the FDA changed the eligibility rules for gay and bisexual men and women who had sex with bisexual men. The abstinence period for those prospective donors went from 12 months to three months. 

Under the new proposal, gay and bisexual men who don’t report having new or multiple sexual partners in the past three months can donate blood, if they meet other eligibility criteria. 

The three-month abstinence period for donor eligibility will now be for anyone who had a new sexual partner or more than one sexual partner in the past three months. 

The guidance update would bring changes to the current questionnaire for prospective donors, which the agency said is more inclusive. 

Jesse Elkins, who identifies as queer, is encouraged to see the questionnaire will eliminate donor eligibility question based on sexual orientation. 

“I think it’s a wonderful step and where we should all be going, individual risk assessment,” Elkins said.

Elkins said similarly with his personal training network Full Sun Fitness, he focuses on the individual and on inclusivity.

“Full Sun Fitness I created as a queer space for the LGBTQIA+ community to come in a safe space to move their bodies,” Elkins said. 

He’s also glad the changes would allow some gay and bisexual men to donate blood.  

“The guidelines here are a step in the right direction,” Elkins said. 

In his perspective, the changes are long overdue and don’t go far enough. 

Even with the proposed changes, Elkins wouldn’t be able to donate blood because he has two male partners. 

“I am in a non-monogamous relationship and I feel my partners practice the safest sex possible, so I feel I’m at the lowest risk of HIV but I’m still unable to give blood,” Elkins said. 

The updated guidance doesn’t change donor deferral periods for sex workers.

“I do think these protocols still discriminate against sex workers because not all people who exchange sex for money or drugs are necessarily at high risk of HIV because chances are they are using some sort of safer sex practices,” Elkins said.

The deferral times will remain the same for those who are taking pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEp pills or injections to prevent getting HIV. According to the FDA, the use of PrEP may delay detection of HIV by licensed screening tests for blood donations. 

For the last 10 years, Elkins said he’s been traveling around the world, teaching people safer sex practices and HIV preventive measures. 

He also takes PrEP and thinks the updated guidance would have been a good opportunity to educate people about PrEP. 

“Instead of more or less stigmatizing people who are taking PrEP, which is a wonderful preventive measure for HIV, by telling them they can’t donate blood, we should be using this opportunity to educate people at higher risk of HIV,”  Elkins said. 

The American Red Cross said in a statement the organization is pleased with the FDA proposing to determine blood donor eligibility using a gender-inclusive and individual risk assessment regardless of sexual orientation. 

“The Red Cross also recognizes the hurt this policy has caused and that these are just the first steps in repairing relationships with the broader LGBTQ community,” the statement read. 

The organization added it’s committed to making the eligibility changes but developing a new questionnaire and implementing the guidance takes coordination from multiple organizations. It plans to release a timeline in the coming weeks. 

The FDA allows a 60-day comment period before making the change. The agency said it will review all comments before finalizing the guidance.