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Many in Orlando’s gay community are banned from donating blood to shooting victims

Shockwaves were felt through Orlando and the world after a gunman killed a reported 50 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub, and took hostages on Saturday in the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

President Obama spoke about the attack today. “The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came to be with friends, to dance and to sing,” he said. “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub. It was a place of solidarity and empowerment, where people come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights.”

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Orlando’s gay community is hurting more deeply because many people are blocked from donating blood to help the survivors fight for their lives. Last year, the FDA partially lifted a ban on gay men donating blood by saying they could donate if they’d been celibate for one year. However, the new regulations came under fire on social media following the Orlando attack. American actress and activist Mia Farrow tweeted about the painful fact that members of the gay community can’t help their friends and loved ones shot in a gay nightclub: “Straight people please donate blood for the wounded because Orlando won’t accept gay people’s blood.”

This attack hits the LGBT community in the United States particularly hard because the shooter, American-born Omar Mateen, was known by those close to him to be homophobic. While Mateen reportedly supported ISIS and was investigated by the FBI for harboring radical Islamist sympathies, his father, Mir Seddique, insisted to NBC News that this shooting had “nothing to do with religion.” He claimed his son had become enraged when he saw men kissing in Miami.

While the Orlando community has been coming out in full force to donate blood, many gay men have been unable to show solidarity in this way. Following last year’s updated regulations concerning bans on blood donations from men who have sex with men, David Stacy, Government Affairs Director of the Human Rights Campaign, called the changes “a step in the right direction toward an ideal policy that reflects the best scientific research” in an interview with Time. However, Stacy added that that the new regulations still “fall short of a fully acceptable solution because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men.”

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Despite rumors on social media that the ban on blood from men who’ve had sex with men in the past year had been temporarily lifted, OneBlood, the foundation tasked with blood collection in Orlando, claims that it hasn’t even switched over to the new FDA guidelines yet. Foundation spokesman Pat Michaels told the Washington Post that OneBlood hasn’t updated its system to allow men who’ve had sex with men but have been abstinent for a year to donate blood, but he promised it would happen later this year.

Many critics of the yearlong waiting period point out that the regulations don’t take individual risks into account. For instance, men in monogamous relationships with their partners could be in a lower risk category. In a statement following last year’s update of the blood donation regulations, Wisconsin’s U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin said that she was pushing for blood donation policies “based on individual risk factors, that don’t unfairly single out one group of individuals and that allow all healthy Americans to donate.”

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