Florida LGBTQ community played role in new blood donation policy

New inclusive screening process expands blood donor eligibility
Published: Aug. 8, 2023 at 10:11 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2023 at 10:34 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV/Florida Capital Bureau) - Someone in the United States needs blood every two seconds. And now, more people can donate to the American Red Cross to help out.

This week, the Red Cross implemented its new blood donation policy to reflect new guidelines the Food and Drug Administration announced this spring, allowing more gay and bisexual men to give blood.

“It’s a transformational change,” Equality Florida Policy Advisor Carlos Guillermo Smith said.

The FDA banned gay men from giving blood in the 80s because of the AIDS epidemic, which many gay and bisexual men in Orlando found out after the Pulse Nightclub shooting.

“In the hours and days after the horrific shooting at Pulse Nightclub, so many, hundreds if not thousands, of gay and bi men in central Florida were turned away and told they were not allowed to donate blood,” Guillermo Smith said.

In May, the FDA made changes to those rules. It now asks screening questions about specific behaviors and medications to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV.

Smith helped gay and bisexual men in Orlando to sign up for the study leading to policy change.

As of Tuesday, the Red Cross is now using the new guidelines.

“Everything that is collected goes through testing. We don’t think there’s any impact to the safety of the blood supply because the same standards are in place,” said American Red Cross Capital Area Chapter board member Sandi Poreda.

The Red Cross hopes these new rules will encourage more people to give blood.

“Anything we can do to make the blood donation process more inclusive, treat all donors equally, and potentially increase that blood supply,” Poreda said.

OneBlood will be putting those guidelines in place on August 21.

Spokeswoman Susan Forbes said it takes time to implement any changes coming from the FDA.

“A change to our entire regulatory software platform, a new donor history questionnaire had to be created,” Forbes said. “We also have to train all of our frontline team members with the new guidance.”

The federal government estimated 37% of the U.S. population was eligible to donate blood before the rule change. The American Red Cross supplies about 40% of the country’s blood supply.

“It’s going to bolster our nation’s blood supply and change lives,” Smith said.