BOISE, Idaho — Blood donation restrictions on gay and bisexual men date back to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. At the time, the federal government created a lifetime ban on blood donations policy for men who have sex with men.
“There was a huge fear factor,” retired St. Luke’s nurse Judy Cross said.
Cross remembers the HIV/AIDS epidemic well, when LGBTQ patients were in scary territory.
“We had to make rules in the hospital that you don't put HIV across the doorway or the end of the bed or anything like that. That’s because that immediately put them at a disadvantage,” Cross said.
The stakes of even interacting with a gay man who was HIV positive were high.
“Some physicians actually lost patients because they wouldn't come to them anymore if they were taking care of those people,” Cross said.
An added layer for Cross – she herself is a member of the LGBTQ community.
“You know, for a long time I didn't really label myself, but everybody knew that I was a member of the community. I only got arrested eight times for add the words,” Cross laughed.
In 2015, the ban was altered to allow gay men to donate blood, but only if they abstained from sexual contact for a full year. In 2020, that was changed to a three-month waiting period. Regulators say there was no negative impact on the blood supply as a result of those changes.
Just announced FDA guidelines get rid of the requirement that men who have sex with men abstain from sex for three months prior to giving blood.
Instead, all potential donors — regardless of sexual orientation, sex or gender — will be screened with a new questionnaire that evaluates their individual risks for HIV based on sexual behavior, recent partners and other factors. Potential donors who report having anal sex with new partners in the last three months will be barred from giving until a later date.
“Great news. It's welcome news,” former Idaho lawmaker John McCrostie said.
McCrostie is an outspoken LGBTQ advocate and one of the men who will soon be donating blood. KTVB spoke with him about it in 2022.
“I haven't donated blood since I came out a number of decades ago and only in compliance with that federal requirement,” McCrostie said in 2022.
Now, a much different story.
“Once the rules are implemented, have gotten down to local blood banks and blood donation drives, then, you know, you will certainly see me in line," McCrostie said. "But it's not going to happen tomorrow, you know, because the rules do need to flow down to the local banks and to have their new questionnaire in place, but once it does, you will see that we are in line."
Cross agrees, the progress is encouraging.
“This change is refreshing. It is a change that we're looking at not the gender or sexual orientation. It's really looking at clinical criteria," Cross said. "We're receiving the respect and the dignity of the people that are donors and the respect and dignity of patients."
Community advocates and leaders agree.
“We applaud the FDA decision to change the rules to determine who is available to donate blood, you know, by switching to a more individual risk assessment basis, that adds a level of inclusivity to the blood donation process that we haven't seen in a long time, and that opens it up to for pretty much almost anyone to be able to donate blood and help save lives,” Executive Director of Boise Pride Donald Williamson said.
Williamson said the change is welcome, and long overdue.
“It's been an antiquated rule for forever because they test every pint of blood that comes through anyway," Williamson said. "So, why have this antiquated rule on the books when you're testing for any issues, regardless of who it is, is donating it."
The timing of the change, right as Pride Month begins, it’s timing that’s being celebrated.
“A number of years ago, we started talking about how pride in and of itself is an act of resistance and in standing up for ourselves that we are contributing members of society, that we, you know, we pay our taxes, we mow lawns, we keep our neighborhoods looking nice and clean," McCrostie said. "You know, there's nothing wrong with who you are as an LGBTQ plus person, and you deserve to celebrate this month and the other 11 months along with it."
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