Margaret Eby
Updated Dec 24, 2014 @ 10:44 am

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration announced a change in its decades-old policy that prohibited gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

This is a big deal: Gay rights organizations have clamored for the policy to change for years, citing it as a discriminatory practice against homosexual men who could potentially save lives by donating their blood. But there are still restrictions. The agency will still ban men who have been sexually active with another man in the last year, a move that frustrated the groups pushing for the band to be lifted altogether.

The ban on gay men donating blood was enacted in 1983 during the AIDS crisis when health officials were still struggling to understand the deadly disease. There was no quick test to determine whether donated blood was infected or not. But the understanding of HIV and AIDS has improved dramatically in the last thirty years, as well as procedures for testing for the disease.

The wide margin of error is one that the FDA has in place for other diseases too. And the new policies put the U.S. in the same boat as many European countries, who also have the 12-month restrictions.

“This is a major victory for gay civil rights,” Glenn Cohen, a Harvard law professor told the New York Times. “We’re leaving behind the old view that every gay man is a potential infection source.”