CBS New York ran a segment highlighting the story of Yuval David, a gay actor, filmmaker, and advocate in New York who was turned away from donating plasma after recovering from COVID-19 in March. GLAAD has been leading a campaign to urge the FDA to lift its discriminatory restrictions on gay and bi men donating blood and plasma, with its petition calling for an end to the current blood ban approaching 25,000 signatures.
Check out the full segment below:
In the segment, David discusses being sick with COVID-19 in mid-March, and then recovering from the illness in approximately a week. Once he felt back to normal, David wanted to donate blood, knowing that his body had developed antibodies that could be used to treat those struggling with the virus. David contacted the New York Blood Center and provided all the necessary information for him to donate blood. However, once he revealed that he was gay, married to a man, and had only been sexually active with his partner, the medical professional informed him that he would not be able to donate due to the FDA’s discriminatory restrictions on men who have sex with men (MSM) donating blood.
Tonight, I spoke on @cbsnews about how even as I tried to help others during this pandemic, I was discriminated against, because I am gay. Thank you @cbsnewyork and @tvcoryjames for sharing my story and the work @glaad and I are doing regarding the ban on… pic.twitter.com/K2xRDhpuvB
— Yuval David (@YuvalDavid) May 9, 2020
“I don’t fit the three-month abstinence policy, but why should I?” David said.
Yuval David also wrote about his story on Medium, where he recounts his experience with COVID-19, details being turned away from donating his plasma, and calls on the FDA to lift its discriminatory restrictions on gay and bi men donating blood.
On Friday, Brazil’s Supreme Court overturned restrictions that limit gay and bisexual men, and other LGBTQ people, from donating blood. The case was brought to the Supreme Court in 2016, but finally reached a majority decision on Friday when seven of eleven Supreme Court justices voted that the guidelines barring men who had sex with other men from giving blood were unconstitutional, ultimately ending any waiting time. Earlier this month, Hungary also removed its ban on gay and bi men donating blood.
On April 2nd, the FDA announced it revised its deferral time blood donations from gay and bisexual men from 12 months to 3 months. After the FDA’s revision, the American Medical Association called on the FDA to update its guidelines to be more in line with science: “We urge the FDA to take future steps to remove the categorical restrictions for blood donations by MSM so they are instead based on a person’s individual risk, consistent with the latest scientific evidence, to ensure blood donation criteria is equitably applied across all people.”
GLAAD launched a petition in March calling for an end to the current ban following U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams’ urgent call for donations during the COVID-19 crisis. The petition has over 24,000 signatures and elected officials including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Kamala Harris have spoken out. Sam Smith (via IG story), Chasten Buttigieg, Michelle Visage (RuPaul’s Drag Race), Daniel Franzese (Mean Girls), Peppermint (RuPaul’s Drag Race), Margaret Cho, Nico Tortorella (Younger), Josh Feldman (This Close), and Johnny Sibilly (Pose) have also helped to share GLAAD’s petition on social media.
On May 7, the House Oversight Committee sent a letter urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow men who have sex with men (MSM) who have recovered from COVID-19 and can safely donate plasma in support of treatment research efforts to do so. The letter is signed by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform), Rep. Jamie Raskin (the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties), and Committee Members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Katie Porter, and Deb Haaland.
This letter from the House Committee follows an initial letter released by Chairwoman Maloney and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez on April 1, urging the FDA to revise its 12-month donor deferral policy for MSM in light of the negative long-term impacts coronavirus will have on the United States blood supply.
In April, an FDA spokesperson told Good Morning America: “the FDA is committed to considering alternatives to the time-based deferral for men who have sex with men by generating the scientific evidence that will support an effective individual risk assessment-based blood donor questionnaire.” The FDA also revealed to Good Morning America that it is “working to commence a pilot study that will enroll about 2000 men who have sex with men and who would be willing to donate blood.”
Following this news, GLAAD responded with a statement from President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis: “The FDA is placing American lives on the line as they debate stigma, not science. During the current crisis, the FDA is wasting time and money on a pilot study when all the scientific research and medical authorities plainly state that gay and bi man should not be restricted from donating blood. All blood donations, regardless of sexual orientation, are screened to ensure healthy samples and now the American Medical Association, leading elected officials, and more than 600 medical professionals have all done the work for the FDA and unequivocally state that this ban needs to end.”
In April, Attorney generals from 19 states and D.C. issued a letter to the Assistant Health Secretary, requesting that the FDA further loosen its ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. GLAAD also released an open letter penned by over 500 medical professionals calling on to the FDA “to reverse its unscientific and discriminatory ban against men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood in favor of risk-based screening.” The letter also notes that “the FDA’s recent decision to shorten the prohibition window to 3 months is a step in the right direction, [but] it does not go far enough in reversing the unscientific ban.”
GLAAD also thanked Andy Cohen for speaking out against the ban, after he was unable to donate plasma following his recovery from COVID-19:
Thank you @Andy for speaking out against the ban that prevents gay and bi men and others in the LGBTQ community from donating blood and plasma.
— GLAAD (@glaad) April 24, 2020
Following the launch of GLAAD’s petition in March, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin led a group of Senators, including Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Tammy Duckworth, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and more, in releasing a letter to FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn that raises concerns about the FDA’s discriminatory blood donation policies and urges the administration to make the necessary changes to help save lives. Read the full letter here.
Leading medical organizations have debunked the ban on blood donations for years. The American Public Health Association has stated that the current ban “is not based in science but appears to be modeled after other countries’ choices and fears.” The American Red Cross has also spoken out, noting that “blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation.” A 2014 study by the Williams Institute estimated that if the ban were to be lifted, an additional 360,000 men would likely donate, which could help save the lives of more than a million people.