Certain blood donors are being turned away amid a national shortage. Here’s why

Blood supplies across the nation are the lowest they’ve been in a decade, but when many gay men try to donate, they’re being turned away.

"I think about all of the lives I could’ve saved within the last 15 years and not being able to do it," said Josh Stowell, a gay man who lives in Marietta. "I feel helpless almost. Helpless in the terms of like, I can’t just go help save lives in one of the most direct ways possible."

The Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines for blood donations states that men who have had sex with other men within the last three months are ineligible because of a heightened risk for HIV/AIDS.

Atlanta is now one of eight cities throughout the country where the federally-funded ADVANCE Study is taking place. The goal is to collect enough data to bring to the FDA to establish that the ban on sexually-active gay men is unnecessary.

It comes as blood supplies are at historic lows – and hospitals can use every drop they can get.

"We are currently seeing historically-low blood supplies, so I think that anybody who is willing and able to donate should be allowed to donate," said Steven Igarashi-Ball, director of equity and engagement for the Atlanta Pride Committee.

The Red Cross is experiencing a shortage of blood donations during the pandemic as blood drives have been canceled. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

"You can’t actually donate blood unless you’re basically celibate for three months," Stowell said.

He’s now one of 75 participants in the study across the Atlanta Metro area. The Atlanta Pride Committee partnered with the American Red Cross in an aim to get 250 participants in Atlanta, and thousands more in eight other cities across the country with a high LQBTQ population.


"I feel like we have this window of opportunity to hopefully adjust that and get rid of the deferral altogether," said Igarashi-Ball.

Stowell says the day the guidelines change – he’ll be the first in line.

"Each time I’m eligible to donate blood again, I’ll be in there every single time. It would be a huge sigh of relief for sure."

To learn more about the study and eligibility, click here.

Atlanta Pride is also hosting a blood drive at the end of the month for those who do meet the current requirements.