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Rep. Quigley: Orlando Tragedy Highlights Discriminatory Blood Donation Rule

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Thousands of people lined up to donate blood in Orlando this week. And there was a real need. More than 50 people were injured in the nightclub shooting early Sunday morning. But not everyone who wanted to donate blood could do so. A long-held ban prevents men who have had sex with other men in the last 12 months from donating blood. Illinois Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley joins us on the line now. He's with the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. And he's trying to get rid of that ban. Good morning.

MIKE QUIGLEY: Good morning. Thanks for having me on.

MONTAGNE: And at first off, this ban came during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Are you - are you saying that it's just a relic of that terrible time?

QUIGLEY: I think you have to remember that time in which there was literally a crisis. And there was a lack of understanding. There was a lack of science and screening. Literally no one knew what the disease was at the beginning or how it was transmitted. Clearly, we have a great understanding now. We have excellent testing, improved screening and we understanding what we're dealing with here. The policy remains.

MONTAGNE: And it was then the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, that instituted the ban. What response have you gotten from them in your efforts to get it changed?

QUIGLEY: Well, remember this is an attempt that's taken place since 2009 when then Senator Kerry and I were writing letters to FDA and HHS to talk about this. And at that time, they called the policy suboptimal. Their response has been - they have been responsive. It's just been very, very slow. Just recently, within the last 12 months, they changed the policy from a lifetime ban to a 12-month deferral, which is still an effective denial.

MONTAGNE: Meaning that's that 12 months of celibacy - wouldn't one have been exposed to the AIDS virus.

QUIGLEY: Which is unrealistic for most people and eliminates gay and bisexual men from the donor pool.

MONTAGNE: Well, obviously, the ban struck a particular chord in these past days since the attack that targeted a gay club. Have you heard from gay or bisexual men in Orlando?

QUIGLEY: Not from Orlando, but from, generally, across the country and largely from my district. I mean, they recognize the cruel irony of this ban personified by this particular terrorist attack. As you say, where the victims were targeted for being members of the LGBT community. And the gay men who wanted to donate blood for those in need were banned from doing so. I had heard about this when I first came to Congress in 2009, which is how we got involved. Typical it was something where there was a tragedy, a national disaster or a family issue. And gay men were told for the first time they couldn't donate. They met this with at first confusion, embarrassment and anger. So we began working on changing the policy.

MONTAGNE: Well, just in a few seconds - yes or no, do you think that policy will change after Orlando?

QUIGLEY: Look, it's been a slow evolution. I think at some point it will when they recognize the science is there to do this, and they recognize that healthy gay and bisexual men who practice safe sex continue to be banned, while heterosexuals who do not practice safe sex are still allowed to donate blood.

MONTAGNE: Thank you so much.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Democratic Congress Congressman Mike Quigley. He serves as vice chairman of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. He's trying to reverse the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.