Lawmakers call for end to ban on blood donations from gay men amid pandemic

In a video posted on social media last year, an emotional Lukus Estok described what happened when he walked out of the New York Blood Center in April 2020: "I was denied." He was told he would not be able to donate his blood plasma, which was rich in COVID antibodies and badly needed, all because the recently recovered man is gay.

In an interview with FOX 5 NY one year ago, he said felt "confusion" and "anger."

But he was not alone.

Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y, the first openly gay Afro-Latino in Congress, was diagnosed with COVID in March 2020. After he recovered, he too wanted to give plasma.

"I fell victim to discrimination at a time when discrimination was deadly," Torres said, "during the blood shortages caused by COVID-19."

Torres, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y, and LGBTQ advocates held a press conference on Monday to ignite further support for a resolution introduced this month in the hopes of changing what they call antiquated FDA policy. 

"These blanket restrictions are discriminatory and they are wrong," Maloney said.

Current federal rules say men who have sex with men must remain celibate for three months in order to donate. In fact, gay and bisexual men have been prohibited from donating blood ever since the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

But as Tanya Walker with Equality New York said: "Science has advanced since then."

"Our government must not perpetuate the stereotype from the 1980s about HIV and AIDS," Krishna Stone of GMHC, the world's first HIV/AIDS service organization, said. "Today's HIV testing tech can detect the virus within about a week of exposure."

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"The policy of the FDA is not only bad morals, it's bad science," Torres added.

 Estok, in a new interview on Monday, said he hopes change will finally come.

"It's frustrating on a larger level because we are talking about human health and safety, and we are talking about a global pandemic when there is dire need for blood and plasma," Estok said. "As a person who wants to help who went through this virus and was very sick, I don't want to see people suffer."

He said the FDA policy marginalizes a population that is already marginalized in many ways.

"We have a better solution. We know better," Estok said. "So when we don't do better, it's very frustrating."

In late 2020, the FDA announced it would begin a study to look into a possible change in policy.

In a statement to FOX 5 NY on Monday, a spokesperson acknowledged that due to advances in technology the nation's blood supply "is safer from infectious diseases than it has been at any other time."

The same spokesperson added that the study regarding a possible change was ongoing and there was no current timeline regarding its completion.