'It's amazing to feel human': American Red Cross puts new blood donation guidelines into practice
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Even though someone needs blood every two seconds, for decades, gay men were not allowed to donate.
"The screening process was stigmatizing," Justin Roby said.
Roby is the director of finance and human resources at Diverse & Resilient, a health organization that works to help LGBTQ+ people in Wisconsin thrive, living healthy, satisfying lives in safe, supportive communities. Roby advocates for LGBTQ+ people, like himself, who often face discrimination in ways others do not.
"I always wanted to give back. I think a lot of LGBTQ+ people feel we need to give back to our community and leave some positive change in our life compared to what we have experienced," Roby said.
Roby tells CBS 58 he chose to stop donating blood years ago because of the trauma he experienced. He said it is a decision he often found himself having to defend.
"It was tough. It was loaded to have to explain, 'this is why I can't participate with you,' especially when I had friends who were going for Brewers tickets, or for whatever the incentives were," he said.
Donor rules implemented in the 1980s during the AIDS epidemic kept gay men from donating. After years of research and pushes to change the policy, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) changed the screening process in May, making it so everyone has to answer the same eligibility questions regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
"It's amazing to feel human. To be given that dignity in who I am and what I do," Roby said.
On Monday, the American Red Cross, which supplies 40% of blood in the U.S., put the changes into practice.
“This historic change in approach to donor eligibility is significant progress, resulting in a blood donation process that is more inclusive than ever before. The Red Cross celebrates the FDA's elimination of blood donation policies based on sexual orientation," the American Red Cross said in a statement.
This new policy now requires all donors who have anal sex with a new partner or with multiple partners to wait three months to donate, which could defer some.
"Going forward, the Red Cross remains committed to achieving further progress and will continue to provide data to the FDA to make blood donation even more inclusive. We recognize the hurt the previous FDA policy that restricted gay and bisexual men from blood donation has caused and that these are just the first steps in repairing relationships with the broader LGBTQ+ community. The Red Cross welcomes everyone who wishes to be part of our humanitarian mission," the American Red Cross said in a statement.
For Roby, having the choice to donate instead of having it made for him is liberating, and knowing others will not feel the pain he did is exactly what he works for.
"While this new system isn't perfect, it will allow many others to get involved and feel like they are doing something good for the community," he said. "For the young adults who will never have to deal with the trauma that I had to deal with, that is the elation that is coming through in this moment, because again, we're doing this work for them, not necessarily for me."
For more information on the new FDA blood donation guidelines, click here.
To learn more about Diverse & Resilient, visit their website.