‘Blood is blood’ | Doors open for gay men to donate blood and plasma

TULSA, Okla. — More gay men are giving blood and plasma for the first time in their lives after rules were relaxed by the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year.

The rules were relaxed for men classified as "men who have sex with men" because nationwide blood donations had plummeted, and the need for plasma from people recovering from COVID-19 continues to rise.

In the past, homosexual men (openly gay or more discreet) all were turned away from donating blood and plasma because of rules put in place during the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s which assumed that HIV/AIDS was an illness carried by gay men. In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, when research was just getting underway, HIV was classified as GRID (Gay Related Immune Disease) because of the assumption only gay men were getting the illness at first.

Rules were previously relaxed to where a gay man could give blood and plasma after abstaining from sexual activity for six months to a year, but for those in relationships and those who wanted to give during an event that happened on a day they found out about the rules, it was practically impossible to give.

Now the rules have been relaxed to where men who have sex with men must abstain from three months before being eligible to give.

“Blood is blood,” said Oklahoma Blood Institute Executive Director Jan Laub. “Once it’s tested for being disease-free from all donors, there’s no way of telling which blood donation came from who.”

Oklahomans for Equality has been hosting its first blood drives in decades since the rules have been relaxed, and they plan to continue to hold more.

"It was very emotional for many people, including myself, because we have the ability to give, and for so long, we've just been told no, we're not good enough," said Oklahomans for Equality Executive Director Toby Jenkins.

Jenkins gave his first blood donation in 23 years last month.

The hope is that by opening the door to more donors, the nation's blood supply can be built back up with a new steady stream of healthy donors.

Also, gay men who have recovered from COVID-19 have the same antibodies as heterosexual individuals and lesbian women. Those antibodies are in convalescent plasma acquired from a previously sick person.

Laub said with more people getting sick, plasma donations cannot keep up with the demand.

Plasma with COVID-19 antibodies are being given to patients with the Coronavirus who are in intensive care and need any help they can get to stay alive.

Some gay men who have abstained from sex for three months have found that if they are on the HIV prevention drug PrEP they may be turned away from donating even if they do not have HIV. Jenkins said he is working to find out why. OBI said they do not take donations from men on PrEP, but Laub said that was a question for their organization’s medical advisors as to why they chose that route.