Cincinnati's Hoxworth Blood Center Will Begin Accepting Blood Donations from Gay and Bisexual Men by End of Year

Expanded FDA regulations have opened new doors for blood banks and the LGBTQ+ community, but there's still some stipulations.

click to enlarge While blood centers were crying out for donations, the FDA was continuing to defer healthy donors. That will change by the end of 2023. - Photo: Charlie Helen-Robinson, Pexels
While blood centers were crying out for donations, the FDA was continuing to defer healthy donors. That will change by the end of 2023.
For the first time in decades, many Greater Cincinnati area men from the LGBTQIA+ community will soon be able to roll up their sleeves and donate blood. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Thursday it has officially eliminated restrictions against gay and bisexual men from donating blood, marking a decline in homophobic healthcare policies that have stigmatized gay and bisexual men for years.

David Oh is the chief medical officer at Hoxworth Blood Center, the University of Cincinnati Medical Center’s blood donation center, which services more than 30 area hospitals and medical centers. He said he was at a medical conference when the news dropped.

“The room was full of blood professionals who gave a standing ovation to the FDA,” Oh told CityBeat. “The entire blood industry is very excited for these changes. We all feel like it’s an advancement for the field.”

Early restrictions on donating blood were designed to protect the blood supply from HIV starting in 1983 when the federal government placed a lifetime ban on men who have had sex with other men from donating blood outright. Restrictions started to ease in 2020, giving men a deferred timeline of three months from their last sexual encounter with a man to donate.

The policies have been widely criticized as discriminatory and stigmatizing against the LGBTQ+ community.

“I think we have to improve our relationship with the LGBTQ+ community, because this policy has been damaging,” Oh said. “We have the chance here to eliminate a policy that can be seen as discriminatory."

Hoxworth and all other blood banks rigorously test donated blood for HIV, which is why Oh said the process won’t change too much now that access to donation has opened up.

“For us, the processing of blood after collection will not change as much,” Oh said. “We’re still going to send for all the current testing that we do, the process that had to change is the questionnaire.”

Repeat donors who sit down to sign up for a blood donation might find some new or changed questions now that the FDA guidelines have changed.

“We have to create algorithms for what the answers are, flow charts,” Oh said. “Part of that complexity comes because blood is essentially considered to be a drug by the FDA. So all the things that pharmaceutical companies have to do for their manufacture of prescription medications, we do and are held responsible for through the production of blood.”

Once Hoxworth’s refined process passes the FDA muster, men who have sex with other men will be allowed to donate blood locally, which Oh said is expected to begin at the end of the calendar year.

While access to blood donation has been expanded, Oh emphasizes there are still those who cannot donate blood under the new guideline.

“We still will ask a lot of questions of people when they come in. People who have been diagnosed with or have HIV are not allowed to donate, even if they are on anti-HIV regimens where it becomes undetectable,” Oh said.

Prospective donors will also be asked if they have a new sexual partner, or have had more than one sexual partner in the past three months. Anal sex in the past three months would also be deferred to reduce the likelihood of donations by individuals with new or recent HIV infection who may be in the window period for detection of HIV by nucleic acid testing.

“We’re still hopeful that this will generate many more people to donate and to be part of our community,” Oh said.

Jake Hitch, director of communications for Cincinnati Pride, told CityBeat that the change from the FDA is a great next step point, but it’s not the finish line.

“We are thrilled for patients who are going to benefit from the expanded blood supply. I think it’s good that [the FDA] is recognizing medical facts.” Hitch said. “There’s still a lot of stipulations around it … hopefully those are going to be re-examined as well.”

To see if you qualify for blood donation now at Hoxworth, click here.

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