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Some Northeast Ohioans are donating blood for the first time due to newly inclusive standards

Mark Fleischer donated blood for the first time since 1991 in Cleveland, Ohio on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024.
Mark Fleischer
Mark Fleischer donated blood January 9, 2024, in Willoughby, Ohio, under revised donation guidelines.

Some Northeast Ohioans, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, are donating blood for the first time after the American Red Cross last year implemented revised guidelines for more inclusive blood donation.

The updated guidelines, based on new standards from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, mean that everyone now receives the same questions during the screening process, eliminating the previous use of questions regarding gender and sexual orientation.

Mark Fleisher, a Northeast Ohio resident, last donated blood in 1991. As a gay man, he was prohibited from donating after the FDA implemented a ban on blood donations in 1985 for men who have sex with men, essentially, banning gay and bisexual men from donating. The ban was motivated by concerns about spreading the HIV virus, then prevalent in the gay community.

This week, Fleisher donated blood again.

“I was very, very excited about it," Fleischer said. "Rolling up my sleeve for a few minutes [could] help save lives. It just took a few minutes of time and I'm so happy.”

Current general guidelines for donation require donors to be 17 years or older (16 with parental consent in some states), 110 pounds or heavier and in general good health. Donors are also asked to wait at least 56 days between donations.

"The Red Cross celebrates this significant progress that eliminates policies based on sexual orientation and moves to a more inclusive process that treats all potential donors with equality and respect while keeping the blood supply safe," the American Red Cross said in an online statement.

Fleisher's recent donation was a long time coming. Despite not being able to donate himself, he worked for the Red Cross for eight years and is now the blood drive coordinator for the Willoughby Senior Center.

Fleischer said the ban was a challenge for him and others.

"It was very frustrating, having a lot of gay friends and hearing from them that they couldn't donate," Fleischer said.

He hopes the change inspires others from the LGBTQ community to give blood.

"If a lot of gay men would come forward now and answer the questions and then come up to donate, I think it would help alleviate a lot of the shortages," Fleischer said.

An emergency blood shortage currently threatens to delay medical procedures, according to the American Red Cross. The organization said numbers are critically low as the number of donors has fallen to its lowest in 20 years.

The American Red Cross says it provides about 40% of the country's blood supply, but only 3% of age-eligible people donate.

Josh Boose is associate producer for newscasts at Ideastream Public Media.
Stephanie Metzger-Lawrence is a digital producer for the engaged journalism team at Ideastream Public Media.