New Red Cross policy allows more gay and bisexual men to donate blood: So how will it work?

A new American Red Cross policy, implemented in accordance with shifting Food and Drug Administration guidelines, which will allow more gay and bisexual men to donate blood is now in effect.

“The need for blood is higher than ever,” said Stephanie Babyak, spokesperson for the National Capital and Greater Chesapeake region of the Red Cross. “Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood, and every donation can save up to three lives.”

The new FDA guidelines were put in place Monday, Aug. 7, and Babyak said this means the process for prospective donors will look a little different going forward, starting with the questionnaire they’ll get when they go to donate blood.

“Potential donors will have their individual risk factors assessed as to whether they can donate blood,” Babyak told WTOP. “This is to ensure all donors are treated with fairness, equality and respect.”

In other words, people will be asked questions about their individual medical history, but not their sexual orientation.

“It’s going to result in a blood donation process that’s more inclusive than ever before,” Babyak said.

But that’s not to say that the Red Cross isn’t also taking steps to ensure the supply of donated blood is still as safe as ever.

For years, as the possibility of changing donor guidelines drew closer and closer, the organization has been doing research into a new screening process to ensure donated blood is still safe to use.

The ADVANCE study directly contributed to the new questionnaire that prospective blood donors will face when they walk into a clinic to donate going forward.

“If the scientific evidence supports the use of the different questions, it could mean gay and bisexual men who present to donate would be assessed based upon their own individual risk for HIV infection and not according to when their last sexual contact with another man occurred,” the study reads.

The Red Cross said this means they’ll be able to ask questions to ensure safety, without discriminating based on sexual orientation. The study was introduced in 2021, concluded on Sept. 30, 2022, and has directly informed the new 2023 guidelines put in place.

What could this mean for the donated blood supply going forward?

Babyak called it a “historic change” and reflects “definite progress.”

“We’re very grateful to all who have made this possible, from scientific researchers to the LGBTQ community,” she said.

But she also said there’s more to it than being inclusive, and that the timing of these new guidelines could be a huge boost to the blood supply.

“The American Red Cross has seen a shortfall of about 25,000 blood donations in the first two months of this summer,” Babyak said. “The hope here is that we can really expand the donor pool and get more blood on the shelves to help in these emergencies.”

She said the current shortage is affecting about 350 hospitals in our region, and that we could experience shortage levels if things don’t pick back up.

“We’re asking folks to make an appointment to give blood or platelets in August,” said Babyak.

And with these new guidelines, she said many who might not have ever been able to donate before could get the opportunity to help someone they care about.

“For example, if someone has a loved one who needs a transfusion (for a) cancer treatment, they can do that now due to these guidelines,” Babyak said.

“For years, the Red Cross has worked to change the deferral policy,” she added. “We want to make the eligible screening process more fair and still ensure a safe blood supply.”

People can make an appointment to donate blood at the Red Cross by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting their website or calling 800-RED-CROSS.

They’re even offering incentives.

“All who come to give throughout the month of August will get a $10 gift card to the movie theater of their choice,” she said.

Matt Kaufax

If there's an off-the-beaten-path type of attraction, person, or phenomenon in the DC area that you think more people should know about, Matt is your guy. As the features reporter for WTOP, he's always on the hunt for stories that provide a unique local flavor—a slice of life if you will.

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