PBS Lobbies for Blood Donation by Gay Men as an ‘Equal Rights’ Issue

Breaking News

On Friday’s PBS NewsHour, the show promoted another liberal pet cause as a segment was devoted to the efforts of gay activists who are demanding to have their blood accepted for blood transfusions. Co-host Geoff Bennett referred to complaints of “discriminatory policies” as he teased at the top of the show: “The FDA proposes easing restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men — reversing what advocates have long called discriminatory policies.”

Later on, co-host Amna Nawaz set up the segment by recalling that the FDA’s new policies would allow donors who have gone at least three months without anal sex would be allowed to donate blood instead of banning all gay men. After bringing aboard gay activist Cole Williams of the group Pride and Plasma, she began by asking:

We have to point out, for over a generation, gay and bisexual men have been shut out from donating blood as freely as anyone else, and fighting for the right to do so. When you think about this moment, how important is it right now?

In her first followup, the PBS host sympathetically asked about a “personal experience” her guest had had that made him concerned about the issue: “Cole, you came to this work from a very personal experience. During the pandemic, the nation was experiencing a blood supply shortage. Your whole family wanted to donate, as I understand. What happened?”

Even though the purpose of the blood supply is to provide the healthiest possible blood for recipients rather than make the donors feel accepted, Nawaz alluded to the issue as one of “equal rights” that requires a “balance” as she followed up:

You Might Like

You know, Cole, we spoke to Sean Cahill — who is the director of health policy research at the Fenway Institute — he has been on the front lines of this fight — fighting for equal rights for 14 years. He pointed out, “Look, the FDA was haunted by the experience in the 1980s when thousands of people were given blood that had HIV in it.

And he says they’re trying very hard to balance these two things, right? Allowing more people to donate, but also protecting the nation’s blood supply.” And he says they’re doing a good job. Do you agree?

In spite of the millions of blood transfusions that take place in the U.S. Williams suggested that a one in 1.5 million risk of transmission is acceptable. Nawaz and her guest concluded by talking about…”progress.”

There have been incremental steps over the years, but when you look back at when they’ve been taken, why it’s been taken, why do think that it’s taken the years that it has for these changes to be made?

Williams said “I think that one of the reasons is just decreased stigma of the LGBTQ community within the country,” and then tacked on the issue of gay men making tissue donations.

This episode of the PBS NewsHour was funded by Consumer Cellular as well as viewers like you.

Transcript follows:

PBS NewsHour

January 27, 2023

7:17 p.m. Eastern

GEOFF BENNETT (in opening tease): The FDA proposes easing restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men — reversing what advocates have long called discriminatory policies.

(…)

7:17 p.m. Eastern

AMNA NAWAZ: The FDA today announced plans to ease a decades old restriction preventing men who have sex with men from donating blood. A lifetime ban was put into place during the AIDS epidemic over fears of HIV transmission. The new guidelines would ask all potential donors about their recent sexual history instead of singling out queer men. Any potential donors who had anal sex in the last three months with new or multiple partners would not be allowed to donate. Anyone taking medications to prevent HIV infections would also be deferred for a period of time.

For more on this, I’m joined by Cole Williams. He founded the organization Pride and Plasma last spring to bring attention to this issue. Cole, welcome, and thanks for joining us. We have to point out, for over a generation, gay and bisexual men have been shut out from donating blood as freely as anyone else, and fighting for the right to do so. When you think about this moment, how important is it right now?

COLE WILLIAMS, PRIDE AND PLASMA: This is critical. This is the biggest reduction that we’ve seen since the policy was implemented in 1985. Every time that they’ve cut it back, there was still a blanket deferment policy. This is really the first time we’ve seen the FDA look at individual donors and see what their individual risk is.

NAWAZ: Cole, you came to this work from a very personal experience. During the pandemic, the nation was experiencing a blood supply shortage. Your whole family wanted to donate, as I understand. What happened?

WILLIAMS: Yes, so there was commercials — you couldn’t miss them — all the time on the TVs, and my family decided as the four of us that we wanted to go give. However, I knew that because of the deferment policy, I wasn’t eligible. And that led to not a tense conversation but definitely a little bit of an awkward one where I had to say, “You know what, I can’t. I wish that I could, but that’s kind of the reality of the situation.” And that’s the impact of this policy.

NAWAZ: There are still a number of exclusions in place with the new policy — as you mentioned — anyone taking oral medication to prevent HIV or the injectable PrEP treatment is still subject to months long deferrals. Do those make sense to you?

WILLIAMS: I’m going to say yes — I’m going to say no. I’m not entirely sure if the results of the ADVANCE study which enrolled around 1,800 participants — and they looked at the effectiveness and safety of an individual risk assessment. So when we are not having a blanket deferment policy anymore, I think that we still need to be looking at factors like “How else are you having sex while using PrEP and Truvada and other means of preventing HIV?” Because HIV isn’t the only thing that we are looking for when we’re testing blood donations. There’s also hepatitis and countless other sexually transmitted diseases that can still be transmitted through blood donation. So until we see the results of the ADVANCE study and potential new research studies on this specific issue, I can’t really say whether it is justified or not.

NAWAZ: You know, Cole, we spoke to Sean Cahill — who is the director of health policy research at the Fenway Institute — he has been on the front lines of this fight — fighting for equal rights for 14 years. He pointed out, “Look, the FDA was haunted by the experience in the 1980s when thousands of people were given blood that had HIV in it. And he says they’re trying very hard to balance these two things, right? Allowing more people to donate, but also protecting the nation’s blood supply.” And he says they’re doing a good job. Do you agree?

COLE: I do agree. The testing and understanding of HIV that we had in the 1980s is vastly different decades later. In 1999, we implemented nucleic acid testing on a national level. With that, the current risk of HIV transmission through a blood transfusion is one in 1.5 million. So we don’t need to defer people based on their sexual orientation — not that we ever really needed to, but it was a lot more understandable back then. I’m glad that the FDA is taking steps forward to discriminate a little bit less.

NAWAZ: There have been incremental steps over the years, but when you look back at when they’ve been taken, why it’s been taken, why do think that it’s taken the years that it has for these changes to be made?

WILLIAMS: I think that one of the reasons is just decreased stigma of the LGBTQ community within the country but also when we saw the reductions in 2015, 2020, from my understanding, there was not new research data. The ADVANCE study was groundbreaking not only in the number of participants that it had but what it was talking about. We never had that beforehand. All the previous reductions were just based on public opinion. So when we see that we don’t have a blanket of affirmative policy or even policy that looks at individual sexuality and sexual orientation, we just hadn’t asked that question before and had evidence to back it up.

NAWAZ: When we’re looking at these kinds of restrictions and how they’re put into place — who they restrict, is this just about blood donations to you?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely not. The FDA also handles tissue donation — which that includes your heart valves, your dura mater, skin, tendons, bones, ligaments — a whole bunch of different tissues that people are waiting for in hospitals and that patients are in desperate need of. There’s a five-year deferment policy for any man who has had sex with another man, regardless of the form — regardless of whether it was protected or safe. And whether that individual has been tested for STDs.

NAWAZ: Cole Williams, the founder of the organization Pride and Plasma, joining us tonight. Cole, thank you for your time.

Articles You May Like

United Airlines slashes 2024 aircraft delivery plan as Boeing crisis leads to delays
Disturbing left-wing propaganda infects our medical schools
Boeing defends 787 Dreamliner safety after whistleblower alleged structural flaws
Eli Lilly’s weight loss drug Zepbound shows promise as a sleep apnea treatment in late-stage trials
Israel’s attack on Iran reflects badly on Biden after president’s public message for Netanyahu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *