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Advocates: FDA Blood Donation Policy Still Discriminates Against Gay, Bisexual Men

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Giving blood is just one of many ways people are trying to help the wounded in Orlando, but one group is barred from donating.

As CBS2's Emily Smith reported, the Food and Drug Administration requires a year of celibacy before men who have sex with other men can donate blood.

"The practice is discriminatory," said Kelsey Louie, chief executive officer of the Gay Men's Health Crisis. He said it perpetuates the stigma that HIV is a gay disease.

The rule that affects many gay and bisexual men took effect last year. Prior to that, no sexually active gay man could give blood.

"Independently of if you are or are not homosexual – if you have different partners, it's not safe," one man said. "So I agree with that, not with the part of being gay or not being gay."

"There's other diseases that show up right away. Does AIDS show up right away? If it's in your system you don't see it – I don't know," another man said.

The FDA classifies sexually active gay men in the highest-risk blood-donor category, with statistics showing more than half of all people living with HIV are gay men.

But some opponents to the mandate said the FDA rules are not advertised because they are discriminatory. The blood donation organization OneBlood took to Twitter last night telling the LGBT community in Florida, all FDA rules remain in effect despite many gay men wanting to do something to help.

The agency said there had been false reports that FDA rules had been listed.

CBS2 also contacted the American Red Cross about the policy. A representative said, "All blood collectors in the U.S. are required to follow the rules and guidance issued by the FDA, including blood donation eligibility,"

Dr. Joe Barbagallo is a physician and an openly gay man, and he is fighting to help amend the one-year deferment, calling it nonsensical. He said testing for HIV has gotten less complicated.

"A lot of the technology that exists now to detect the RNA virus can do so within seven days of contracting the infection," Barbagallo said.

And once a donor gives blood, according to the American Red Cross, every unit undergoes tests including one for HIV. Those results take less than two weeks.

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