This segment originally aired Jan. 10, 2016 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
On Tuesday, Jay Franzone, a 21-year-old gay man from Connecticut, gave blood for the first time. For most men, the donation, which took place in Washington, DC, would have been perfectly banal, but for Jay, it was the end of a long journey. That’s because the U.S.’ current blood donation rules require him to give up sex for a year.
The HIV crisis of the 1980s put a lot of focus on the U.S. blood supply. In 1983, regulators asked men with multiple male sexual partners to refrain from donating blood because there was no reliable way to test for HIV. By 1992, the FDA had put in place a lifetime ban that prevented donations by men who had even a single sexual encounter with another man after 1977.
Despite advances that made it easier to detect the virus in blood, that ban wasn’t replaced until December 2015. Today, the rule is as follows: gay and bisexual men can give blood, but only if they abstain from sexual contact with other men for 12 months. So, in March 2016 — after a three-month sexual dry spell — Franzone decided to follow the rule to highlight its unfairness.
“[The] policy is not rooted in actual risk; it’s not rooted in my risk as a person. It’s rooted in this overarching stigma,” Franzone told me when I visited him in his dorm room at American University in September. At the time, he’d been abstinent for nine months. “You know I’ve been tested multiple times since I’ve been abstinent. I’m good to give blood. But I still can’t because I have to wait a full year.”
In July, the FDA announced that it was once again re-evaluating the guidance for blood donations by men who have sex with men, and considering a risk-based approach. Yesterday, a spokesperson for the FDA told VICE News that the agency had “no information to share regarding the potential timing of a revised guidance.”