Denver, CO

Denver proclamation supports gay men giving blood

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) The Denver City Council will consider passing a proclamation Monday supporting gay men giving blood.

"The Food and Drug Administration has updated its policies in recent years but discriminatory deferral policies that categorically restrict donations from men who have sex with men remain in place," the proclamation states.

The policy is a throwback to the early days of AIDS in the 1980s when gay men became widely infected with the virus. Today HIV is a controllable disease. Medications are available that prevent HIV transmission.

According to the FDA, despite the fact the blood is tested for HIV, the policy remains. It states that men who have sex with men can't donate blood for at least three months after contact. Because of how it's worded, the policy excludes gay men in committed, monogamous relationships.

Sen. Bennet calls for end to donation policy

In January, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet wrote a letter to the FDA asking them to update the policy. "In light of the nation's urgent blood supply crisis and to ensure that Americans have access to life-saving blood transfusions during the pandemic, we urge you to swiftly update your current blood donor deferral policies in favor of ones that are grounded in science, based on individualized risk factors, and allow all potentially eligible donors to do so free of stigma," the letter reads.

"Any policy that continues to categorically single out the LGBTQ+ community is discriminatory and wrong," the letter declares. "Given advances in blood screening and safety technology, a time-based policy for gay and bisexual men is not scientifically sound, continues to effectively exclude an entire group of people, and does not meet the urgent demands of the moment."

Lifetime ban existed until 2015

The proclamation says blood donors have saved countless lives of Denverites and their loved ones. The proclamation references Bennet's letter to the FDA.

Until 2015, the FDA imposed a lifetime ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men. "This is sort of like 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' in that donating blood is a way to serve your country and we're being denied that," Ryan James Yezak told Healthline News. Yezak is a Los Angeles filmmaker who made a documentary about his fight against the ban. "Hopefully, they're just starting to see this ban for what it is."

In 2014, 80 lawmakers wrote the FDA a letter stating the new policy diverting gay men from donating for a year after having sex remained discriminatory. "A one-year deferral policy, like a lifetime ban, is a categorical exclusion based solely on the sex of an individual's sexual partner — not his actual risk of carrying … an infection."

Council member hosts blood drive

Councilmember Chris Herndon, who is sponsoring the proclamation, will host a blood drive on May 6 at The Cube of Master Community Association, 8371 Northfield Blvd. Children's Hospital Colorado and Central Park United Neighbors also sponsored the drive.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

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