PORTLAND, Oregon (KPTV) — Effective Dec. 6, gay and bisexual men are now allowed to donate blood under new Food and Drug Administration guidelines.
Bloodworks Northwest has updated its processes to align with new FDA guidance easing restrictions on donations by men who have sex with men.
The new guidance, issued in May 2023, will now ask potential donors to answer the same set of questions assessing their human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) risk, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. The criteria will now focus on sexual contact associated with a higher risk of disease transmission. Those who have engaged in certain types of sexual activity with a new partner within the last three months would not be allowed to donate until a later date.
Chris Harrison of Bloodworks Northwest says one donation can help up to three people and they need 1,000 donors every day in the PNW to keep hospitals operational.
“There’s been a lot of folks in our region the Pacific Northwest who wanted to donate, but haven’t been able to, so now it opens more opportunity for that,” Harrison said.
According to the FDA, if someone is on HIV medication, such as PrEP or PEP, they will be deferred for three months from their most recent use date. Data suggests HIV medication may delay the detection of HIV in screening tests for blood donations.
Juan Carlos Gonzalez and his partner of seven years, Dylan Smith, were the first gay men in Portland to donate blood.
“I felt kind of ashamed in a way, just because I was told for being gay that I couldn’t donate like there was something wrong with my blood,” Carlos Gonzalez said. “Even though I may not know that person, it’s cool to be able to be like here’s a little of me and it’s not really taking a lot of effort on my part.”
Smith also works as a phlebotomist at Bloodworks Northwest.
“I’ve done so many donors but donors who identify as gay men, I’ve never been able to draw,” Smith said. “So, for the first one for me to draw to be my own partner, how amazing is that?”
Public health has been a passion for Smith, but he says it’s been hard to work for years in an industry he couldn’t participate in.
“It’s a tough conversation telling people who are in the same situation, ‘I’m so sorry, you can’t help your community today in the way that you wanted to,’” Smith said. “It’s making history. This is something men who have sex with men weren’t able to donate for so long and just opening that gate up is extraordinary.”
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