Gay Doc, CDC Policy Advisor who Challenged Blood Ban, Donates under New FDA Guidelines
Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 2 MIN.
Dr. Robert Goldstein, a former policy advisor at the CDC who served under President Biden and who is now commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, donated blood Aug. 29, UK newspaper The Guardian reported.
Goldstein had "never been able to make the life-saving donation because he is a gay man, and up until May 2023, was forbidden from giving blood under a US Food and Drug Administration rule," the Guardian recounted. "However, new rules announced by the FDA in May recently went into effect and now allow blood donations from millions of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex [with] men."
Boston station WBZ detailed that Goldstein "gave blood side-by-side" with "former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky," with whom he worked at Mass General Hospital when, in 2015, the two decided to take on the FDA's blanket ban on gay and bisexual male blood donors. The two "agreed that while the implementation of the blood donation ban during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s had saved countless lives, the policy had become outdated due to advancements in HIV/AIDS screening," WBZ relayed.
"In 2016, the pair, along with colleague Dr. Chana Sacks, published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that challenged the Food and Drug Administration's guidelines and suggested it adopt new rules that are based on an individual donor's risk (how recently they have had sex with new or multiple partners) rather than their sexual orientation," WBZ went on to add.
The FDA's longstanding blanket ban was revised in 2020, but required that male donors refrain from sex with other men – even their committed partners or spouses – for three months as a condition of giving blood. No such restriction was placed on heterosexual men, regardless of their sexual habits or marital status.
"The pair's mission continued in 2021 when Walensky was appointed as the head of the CDC and brought Goldstein with her as her senior adviser," WBZ detailed. "Alongside the FDA and other officials, they continued to review blood donation rules."
"We saw it as a policy that had a place in history, but now it just doesn't fit with the science," Goldstein told the news station. "We talked about it, we wrote about it, we met with the right people, and then it happened."
As previously reported, the FDA announced last January that the requisite period of celibacy for men who have sex with men (MSM) would be scrapped and a new set of guidelines adopted that, aside from disqualifying men who report having had anal sex with a new partner within the past three months, largely treat LGBTQ+ men and heterosexual men the same.
The new policy was finalized in May and the new guidelines took effect earlier this month.
"I want to give back and now finally I can," Goldstein told WBZ at the American Red Cross Blood Donation Center, where he and Walensky had gone to donate. "You keep pushing, things can happen, and you can achieve really amazing policy change."
"We said that when the policy changes, we will come and donate together, and that's why we're here."
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.