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News about the LGBTQ+ community in the Charlotte area and beyond.

NC health secretary to donate blood as FDA rules for gay, bisexual men go into effect

North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services Kody Kinsley will donate blood in Raleigh on Aug. 7, 2023.
North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services Kody Kinsley will donate blood in Raleigh on Aug. 7, 2023.

North Carolina's health secretary, Kody Kinsley, will be among the first to donate blood on Monday under newly relaxed rules for gay and bisexual men issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Under the new rules, gay and bisexual men no longer must abstain from all sex for three months before they can donate.

Instead, the agency will ask people to wait if they've had anal sex with new or multiple partners, or have taken HIV prevention drugs — such as PrEP — in the past three months.

The FDA says while HIV preventions drugs, such as PrEP are safe and FDA-approved, they can delay detection of HIV, and potentially give false negative results. The FDA says individuals shouldn't stop taking the medications in order to donate blood.

The previous restrictions date back to the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, when the FDA implemented a lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men to protect blood recipients from HIV.

The rules were gradually relaxed over time, most recently in 2020, when gay and bisexual men were asked to abstain from sex for 90 days before donating.

Many LGBTQ advocates and health officials, including Kinsley, who is a gay man, said the previous rules were discriminatory and outdated.

In March, Kinsley penned a letter to the FDA that was co-signed by health officials in nine other states and the District of Columbia urging the FDA to change its policy. He says he's pleased with the new guidelines.

"I’m thrilled that after decades of a policy that was reinforced in stigma, that the FDA has leaned into the science and created a policy that’s based off risky behaviors, and not who people are," Kinsley said.

Kinsley used to donate blood when he was in high school and college, he said, but stopped after he came out as gay and learned of the FDA restrictions.

In January 2022, when North Carolina was facing a significant blood shortage, Kinsley said a staffer asked if he would donate blood alongside Gov. Roy Cooper to encourage others in the state to donate, and Kinsley had to explain why he couldn't. That prompted him to draft the letter he sent to the FDA in March.

Now, Kinsley said he's excited to again donate blood, and will roll up his sleeve on Monday alongside State Health Director and NCDHHS Chief Medical Officer Elizabeth Tilson at an American Red Cross blood donation center in Raleigh.

"I hope other donors will step forward and join me," Kinsley said. "It's something that you can do many times a year, and so I encourage others to roll up their sleeves and donate often."

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal