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Why Gay Men Still Can't Donate Blood

The Orlando massacre reignites a 30-year-old controversy.
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Photographer: Michael Conroy/AP Photo

In the aftermath of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that killed 49 people and injured 53, blood centers were overwhelmed with individuals who wanted to donate. Gay men, however, weren't all allowed to do so—a policy harking back to the height of the AIDS crisis, and one that was quickly derided as discriminatory and an insult to a community under attack.

Until recently, men who had had sex with men at any point in their lives were prohibited from giving blood in the U.S., the rationale being that they were more likely to be HIV-positive. Federal authorities have begun to loosen those restrictions, which were put in place in 1985, following years of opposition by gay rights advocates and improvements in screening technology. In December, the Food and Drug Administration published new, voluntary guidelines for blood centers that would permit donations by gay or bisexual men who have abstained from sex for one year.