Volunteers hope to change FDA rules on blood donations


BOZEMAN, Mont. - Volunteers at a Bozeman area blood drive say a Food and Drug Administration ban on donations by gay and bisexual men is discriminatory.

Current FDA rules prohibit blood donations by men who have had sex with other men anytime since 1977.

According to the FDA, as a group, gay and bisexual men are at increased risk for diseases that can be transmitted through blood infusion like HIV and Hepatitis B.

Officials say all donated blood is tested for disease but tests cannot be 100-percent accurate.

NBC Montana talked to people at Monday's blood drive who say the rules should be changed.

Dawn Sturman visited the National Gay Blood Drive at the Bozeman Public Library on Monday. She has donated blood in the past. This time is different -- she says until recently she was unaware that gay and bisexual men were unable to donate.

"I'm a teacher at Bozeman High School," Sturman told us, "And I know I've had some gay students and I just wanted to come here and support them."

The drive encouraged people to come in and donate on behalf of gay and bisexual men. Currently the Food and Drug Administration prohibits them from giving blood.

Blood drive Coordinator Damian Guillen said, "We're hoping that one day we too can donate blood and help people."

Guillen says the drive's goal is to have the qualifications for gay and bisexual men donating blood the same as anyone else. "We don't want the evaluation to be based on the sexual orientation, but on sexual actions and behaviors," he said.

The ban's been in place since 1985 -- nearly 30 years.

There have been calls to change the policy in the past. The American Red Cross supported a change in 2006. In 2013, the American Medical Association said the policy was "not based on sound science."

Guillen says that even though medicine and testing have come a long way, gay and bisexual men trying to donate blood face the same stigma as when the ban was enacted at the height of the HIV scare in America.

"Just because I did have a partner of the same sex," Guillen revealed, "I was unable to donate. And that's where the interview stopped."

That experience, shared by many, has led friends, family and allies to step in and donate on behalf of those who can't.

Sturman added, "I think if the science says they can give blood, they should be able to."

Monday's blood drive collected 19 pints.

The group is also collecting signatures on the White House website and hoping to garner enough support get an official statement from the administration.

The petition can be found here.