By Bethany Bray Patterson, American Red Cross Regional Communications Manager
Frank Gainer tried to donate blood for the first time as a high school student in 1974, but he was deferred because he didn’t quite meet the weight requirement to donate.
In September – 49 years later – he walked into a Red Cross blood donor center in Washington, D.C. and was able to donate for the first time.
Gainer, a gay man, is now able to donate after the American Red Cross implemented updated U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines this summer, eliminating eligibility questions based on sexual orientation.
“You’re never too old to start,” Gainer says, smiling. “I had been waiting 49 years for this opportunity, and I’m going to donate as long as I’m healthy … I want to do my part to give back.”
Gainer, an occupational therapist, Washington D.C. resident and retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, said he’s “elated” to see this change, and it felt great to finally be able to donate blood. He donated whole blood at his first appointment in September and has returned to the Charles Drew blood donation center on E Street twice since then to donate platelets.
“I had been following this issue for years and I kept thinking ‘when is [blood donor eligibility] going to change in the U.S.?’,” Gainer says. “I was waiting patiently for the day when I could finally give.”
Years ago, Gainer’s father needed 75 units of blood while he was being treated for cancer. Gainer has always wanted to donate blood in honor of his father and others in his family who have battled cancer, as well as to help others who need essential blood transfusions.
Donating blood “is something that everyone who can do, should do,” Gainer says. “I am retired Army and giving back is part of the way I live my life.”
On August 7, the American Red Cross implemented updated FDA blood donation guidelines that eliminated eligibility questions based on sexual orientation. The Red Cross celebrates this change and remains committed to achieving an inclusive blood donation process that treats all potential donors with equality and respect while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.
The change means that all potential donors now see the same questions related to donation eligibility through a new standard donor history questionnaire all blood collection organizations in the U.S. will use and will be assessed based on their own personal risk factors, not on sexual orientation.
“At my age, and being a gay man in the military and serving under ‘don’t ask don’t tell,’ I’ve seen a lot of change [for the LGBTQ population]. This is just one more thing where we’re equal … I’m happy to see it in my lifetime,” says Gainer.
The need for blood is constant. Blood donations to the Red Cross help ensure new moms, premature babies, cancer patients and accident victims have access to safe, lifesaving blood.
Schedule an appointment to donate today by visiting RedCrossBlood.org.
Questions about eligibility? See RedCrossBlood.org/eligibility.