The Best Time the FDA Was Afraid of Gay Sex and Thought You Should Be Too

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendation to the FDA to drop its ban on men who have sex with men (MSMs) donating blood, and replace it with a one-year “deferral.” I wrote about how that suggestion fell well short of what is required by basic standards of reason, science, and decency.

Well, it turns out that even that modest, still-pretty-homophobic, step was too much for the FDA. It will keep the lifetime ban in place.

I don’t have a whole lot more to say about this. As Slate put it in their headline, “FDA Panel Endorses Lifetime Ban on Gay Blood Donation, Suggests Gay Men Are Diseased Liars.” And as Autostraddle so perfectly summed things up:

To make this as clear as possible: Straight people who have sex with an opposite sex partner who definitely has HIV only have to wait a year to give blood. Gay and bi men who have sex with a man at any point in their lives, even if their partner definitely didn’t have HIV, can never donate.

One FDA advisory panel member, Dr. Susan Leitman, offered the following reasoning to justify their decision: “If I look at the science I would be very wary of a one-year deferral. It sounds to me like we’re talking about policy and civil rights rather than our primary duty, which is transfusion safety.”

That’s true, of course. We are talking about policy and civil rights. It’s odd (and frankly worrying, given her position) that Dr. Leitman doesn’t understand that science and science policy are often deeply intertwined with politics and debates about rights. Scientific theories are frequently shaped by bigotry. Science policy frequently reinforces bigoted stereotypes. And that appears to be what’s going on here.

If Leitman doesn’t understand the relationship between science and politics, perhaps she shouldn’t be in a policymaking role. The LGBT community’s fight to end the FDA’s bigoted blood donation ban is not politics overstepping its bounds into the rightful domain of science. To the contrary, it is the FDA that misunderstands where one ends and the other begins. They are the ones cynically using science rhetoric to disguise homophobia.

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