RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More people are now able to donate blood after the Red Cross put new FDA guidelines into place. North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley pushed for the change, which no longer excludes people from donating based on their sexual orientation.

Kinsley is celebrating donating blood, not just because it saves lives, but because his sexual orientation is no longer stopping him from donating.

Kinsley says he organized blood drives in high school and college.

“Spent a lot of time encouraging people to donate. During my own personal journey, when I came out as a gay man, I quickly became excluded from that process for really for no good reason.”

During the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, gay and bisexual men were prohibited from donating blood. Over the years, Kinsley says HIV testing has advanced and can now keep the blood supply safe. Until this change, though, gay and bisexual men still weren’t allowed to donate blood unless they abstained from sex.

“Initially, gay and bisexual men were deferred for their lifetimes and then they were deferred for a certain number of years since their most recent sexual acts,” he noted.

North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services Kody Kinsley donating blood on August 7, 2023. (Maggie Newland / CBS 17)

He says this had a negative effect on the LGBTQ community.

“It also telegraphs to people of the community that gay and bisexual men are different and risky in who they are, and that’s just inaccurate,” he said.

Kinsley urged the FDA to update its recommendations, which it did.

“Now, they’re shifting away from deferrals based on who people are and rather specific acts and behaviors that may be associated with increased risk.”

Now everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, will answer the same screening questions.

“Now, you won’t be turned away just because of who you are,” said Governor Roy Cooper, who also donated blood Monday, along with state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson.  

The Red Cross expanded eligibility Monday. The Blood Connection, which also operates in Central North Carolina, is training staff on the new guidelines now and a spokesperson says they plan to expand eligibility sometime next month.

Equality NC released the following statement in response to the new eligibility criteria:

“Equality NC is pleased to see the improvement in blood donation policy to remove stigma regarding the LGBTQ+ community. Donating blood is an excellent way to support one another, and we’re so pleased to see the FDA revise rules to allow for more inclusion. We’re glad to see commitment to further research and hope we can move towards a more fully inclusive system as the science advances.”

The new guidelines don’t allow people to donate while they’re taking medications that prevent HIV infection because the FDA says it could be harder to detect HIV through screenings. Secretary Kinsley says scientists will continue to study this and other risk factors and update screening guidelines if needed. For now, though he’s grateful that the work he did, encouraging the FDA to change its criteria and allow more people to give blood, will lead to more donors and more lives saved.

“This a huge, monumental step forward,” he said.