The situation is "very bizarre and perverse," says Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D).
In the wake of the mass shooting in an Orlando LGBT night club, where at least 49 people were killed, members of the gay community had stepped up to donate blood — but a federal policy prevented some individuals from doing so.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains that a man who has sex with another man (MSM) must wait for 12 months, a period known as "deferral," before being allowed to donate blood. The measure aims to mitigate the spread of HIV.
But the policy, according to Polis, "endangers" the country's blood supply.
During the attack in Orlando, for instance, the city's blood bank had asked the public for donations, but "the friends, the loved ones, and even spouses of those directly affected were unable to give in that way," shares Polis in a CNN interview.
In contrast, "somebody [who] happens to be straight but has had unprotected sex with multiple partners of the opposite sex [is] allowed to donate."
Lifting The Blood Donation Ban On Gay Men
Polis, one of the few openly gay members of Congress, is calling on the FDA to scrap the blood donation ban once and for all.
Other Democratic lawmakers are also throwing their support behind the move.
"Low-risk MSM who wish to donate blood and help saves lives should not be exclusively and categorically excluded because of outdated stereotypes," tweeted California Rep. Barbara Lee (D) who, along with Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley (D), is working with Polis on the petition.
The 12-month deferral period for gay men, implemented in December 2015, is a relatively new change to FDA practices that had been in place since 1985, around the time the AIDS epidemic started to come to fore in the public consciousness.
Statistics continue to tie the issue of HIV/AIDS to the gay community.
"In 2010, gay and bisexual men accounted for 63 percent of estimated new HIV infections in the United States," writes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
For Polis, however, a blood donor should be screened based on behavioral risk factors, such as the person's recent sexual history or intravenous substance abuse.
"There's no science that would support the conclusion that there's something inherently different about the risk profile based on who someone loves," he argues.
More Scientific Evidence Needed
The FDA believes "scientific evidence is not available" at the moment to suggest any necessary change to the deferral policy. Blood supply experts estimate it would take about several years to decide on the matter.
And only after extensive studies — on the blood samples of those currently under the ban — have been made, says Michael Busch of the Blood Systems Research Institute in California. In the 1980s, he was among the experts who discovered how blood transfusions could transmit HIV.
Six cases of people being infected with HIV through transfusion have been documented in a little over a decade.