Wilkes-Barre Activist Urges End to Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood After Orlando Massacre

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WILKES-BARRE -- Blood donations in Orlando skyrocketed after the massacre there Sunday, but many gay men were turned away.  Now, people in our area are calling for the lifting of a federal ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men.

The Jewish Community Center on South River Street in Wilkes-Barre held a blood drive on Wednesday. The drive, organized by the American Red Cross of NEPA, also saw an uptick in donations.

"People feel the closeness, the need, blood isn't only needed in Orlando. It's needed everywhere,” said Steve Nachlis, a volunteer there.

But men who had sex with men within a year are banned from donating blood, due to FDA regulations.

"Restricting such a large portion of the population is upsetting,” said Kelly Novakowski of the NEPA Rainbow Alliance.

In the wake of the Orlando shootings, the policy is causing anger and outrage among gays.

“It also perpetuates the stigma that HIV and AIDS are gay diseases which they are not,” said Novakowski.

The federal one-year restriction that tells gay men not to donate blood is based what the FDA calls, "Robust scientific data...to ensure the safety of the blood supply."

But Congressman Matt Cartwright hopes the FDA reviews the policy as more data becomes available.

“We want to ensure that they reflect the best scientific evidence available to keep people safe and to avoid unnecessary stigma and ostracization,” he said.

Blood from the donation drive in Wilkes-Barre is not going to Orlando. It will first go to the local need, and extra blood will then go to the American Red Cross’ national pool.

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