MADISON (WKOW) -- Blood donors are always needed, but gay and bisexual men can never give, even though they may be willing and healthy.
The Food and Drug Administration made the rule after the AIDS pandemic was first discovered in the gay population, almost 30 years ago.
But now, there's a renewed push to change that.
Steve Starkey is the executive director of OutReach, Madison's LGBT Community Center.
"I'm a universal donor and I'm O positive. So I used to regularly donate blood."
While he's known for years he can't donate anymore, others like Blake Lynch had no idea.
Inspired by a friend who needs blood transfusions, he went to donate one day.
"I answered honestly not knowing I was going to be turned away and actually banned for life. And after I realized that, it angered me. Because I am a perfectly healthy individual and I was turned away due to the assumption that I'm HIV positive, and that's not the case," says Blake.
When someone donates blood they have to be screened first to see how risky their blood is.
They answer a lot of questions, but here's the one we're talking about:
"For male donors: from 1977 to the present, Have you had sexual contact with another male, even once?"
If you answer yes, you're automatically banned from donating for life.
"I think it's another example of discrimination. It seems like it's not based on scientific evidence but more on prejudice. It's a human disease. Anybody can catch it," says Starkey.
But some, like the American Red Cross, have, for years, asked the FDA to change that lifetime ban to a 12-month deferral.
That would make it the same as other high risk populations, like people who have actually had sexual contact with someone who has HIV.
Others want the wording of the question changed.
Starkey says, "They can ask instead, whether someone knows their HIV status, been tested, whether they practice safe sex, how many partners they have, how long it's been since they had sex with a person of their same gender. Even if you haven't had sex with another man for 30 years, you're still banned."
That's why Blake and his partner Brett started the organization Banned4Life.
"Blake and I are not policy makers. We're hardly activists. Our main goal is to let people know about it, and it affects people."
Also to encourage people to donate in place of someone who's not allowed to.
The group sets up blood drives all over the country.
For the people who can give, their blood will be tested for infectious diseases.
The FDA says even though every donation is tested, it still cannot detect HIV 100% of the time.
And it's primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of the blood supply.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA, can change the ban without Congressional action.
It's in the process of doing research and hopes to finish internal deliberations on a policy recommendation by the end of this year.
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