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End Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood in Wake of Orlando Shooting, Critics Say

 Advocates took to the steps of City Hall to protest the FDA's current blood donation policies.
Advocates took to the steps of City Hall to protest the FDA's current blood donation policies.
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DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani

CITY HALL — Manhattan-based physician Howard Grossman watched through the window of his Chelsea apartment after 9/11 as hundreds of people stood in line to donate blood.

Many of those in line were gay men — unaware that the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on accepting blood donations from such individuals had not been lifted in the aftermath of the crisis, he said.

“This week I watched it all unfold again in Orlando as gay men tried to donate in the face of tragedy,” he said at a City Hall rally sponsored by the Blood Equality campaign Tuesday that coincided with World Blood Donor Day.

Grossman, who works with HIV patients, and other advocates have called on the FDA to amend its policy prohibiting gay or bisexual men who have had sex with another man within the past year from donating blood.

Up until last year, the FDA had upheld a 1983 policy banning gay men from donating blood altogether.

Tuesday’s press conference had “been on the books for weeks,” said Anthony Hayes, vice president of public affairs and policy at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

But it took on new importance after many gay men were “unable to provide life-saving help to their own community, their fellow Americans, in a time of dire need” following the Orlando shooting, he said.

“The LGBT community’s blood was not missing because our community did not want to help — it was missing because our federal government still believes that gay and bisexual men are diseased, despite the science that says differently,” Hayes said.

“The current FDA policy requires that gay and bisexual men be celibate for one year, which is without question the same lifetime ban — just dressed up differently in hopes that we would not notice,” he added.

GMHC and FCB Health will host a “medical advisory board event” later this year that will bring together experts on blood donation policies, HIV and blood safety with LGBT advocates to discuss amending the current FDA policy, Hayes explained.

“Blood donation policy should be based on science, not stigma,” he said.

Rally attendee Cameron Pollard, 37, said he donated blood just once — before coming out of the closet.

“Every time I see a call for blood donation, it just raises my blood,” he said. “This is just an issue that has really bothered me for a long time."

Attendee Frank Gillam, 29, said he participated in the rally “[in] support for a good cause.”

“The country always needs more blood in case of tragedy, and the fact that we could get more people out here giving more blood, it would help everybody,” he said.