When the American Red Cross called Mayor Evan Low of Campbell, Calif., to ask him to host a blood drive, he couldn’t help but feel conflicted.
Low, who is openly gay, said he knew he needed to do his job as mayor and host a drive to avoid a blood shortage. He also knew he wouldn’t personally be able to donate blood because of a 1983 Food and Drug Administration ban on gay blood donors.
At the Campbell blood drive on Aug. 1, Low decided to go through the process of trying to donate anyway, but was turned away despite being otherwise healthy, he said.
“It was demeaning,” Low told ABCNews.com. “It’s sort of like hosting your own party and not being able to go to your own party.”
So he’s decided to do something about it.
Low started a Change.org petition on Aug. 9 to end the FDA’s lifetime ban on gay men from donating blood, and he’s already gathered almost 19,000 signatures.
The ban prevents any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 – the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States – from donating blood for life.
But Low said he thinks the FDA should consider a deferral period, instead. Perhaps a man who has had sex with another man within the last year shouldn’t be able to give blood, but a man who had sex with another man five years ago should, he said.
The FDA maintains that its policy is not discriminatory.
“FDA’s deferral policy is based on the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation,” an FDA spokesman said in an email.
According to the FDA’s page on the subject, men who’ve had sex with other men made up at least 61 percent of all new HIV infections in the country.
Although they’re barred from accepting blood from gay donors as part of FDA policy, the American Red Cross said in a statement that it supports changing the policy.
The American Medical Association voted in June that it opposes the FDA’s 30-year-old policy.
According to the FDA, the federal Department of Health and Human Services submitted a request for information to the Federal Register regarding the ban in March 2012. This is the first step toward potentially ending it. The RFI, as this process is called, involves gauging public interest and doing research.