Three Democrats in Congress are objecting to restrictions that prevented gay and bisexual men from donating blood in Orlando after the massacre at the gay nightclub early Sunday morning.
Even as donors waited on long lines to help the victims, many gay men were unable to give. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration forbids donations from men who have had sex with a man in the previous year.
Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, the vice-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, California Rep. Barbara Lee and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin issued a statement asking the FDA to lift what they called "this prejudicial ban."
"Tragedies like the one we witnessed in the early morning hours on Sunday show how crucial it is for FDA to develop better blood donor policies that are based on science and on individual risk factors; that don't unfairly single out one group of individuals; and that allow all healthy Americans to donate," they wrote.
Omar Mateen opened fire at the Pulse nightclub around 2 a.m., exchanging shots with a police officer and taking club-goers hostage before being killed by a SWAT team, authorities said. Mateen was armed with an assault rifle and a handgun, they said.
At least 49 people were killed in the massacre, the worst mass shooting U.S. history. It occurred as the country celebrated LGBT pride month.
In Orlando officials on Tuesday urged people to continue to give blood and asked that they make appointments at their local blood banks. Stephanie Zaurin, a spokeswoman for OneBlood, a non-profit donation center, told The Associated Press that donors were coming "in record numbers."
One of OneBlood's own team members was killed in the attack on the nightclub. On its website, it said that it was grieving the death of Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, a supervisor at the center's Orlando laboratory.
"He was passionate about saving lives and took great pride in the lifesaving work he performed," the center said.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Tara Goodin said in an email to The Associated Press that the Interorganizational Disaster Task Force met on Sunday to ensure that all immediate needs for blood were met.
The continued appeal for blood donors comes on World Blood Donor Day, designated by the World Health Organization as a way to encourage people across the world to donate. The theme this year is "Blood connects us all."
Only 62 countries get close to all of their national blood supplies from voluntary unpaid blood donations, WHO says. Thirty-four countries still dependent on family donors and even paid donors for more than three quarters of their blood supply, it says.
That gay men were unable to give blood for a rampage at a gay nightclub was a twist not lost on social media over the weekend.
"The awful irony that the blood banks of Orlando are not accepting gay donors is just awful," tweeted Nick Nazzaro, an illustrator in Boston. "Awful awful awful. Not funny irony, just awful."
Another tweet, from Brian Gerald Murphy, co-creator of activist group Legalize Trans, urged the FDA to change its policy on blood donations.
"Gay. Men. In. Orlando. Can't. Give. Blood. To. Their. Bleeding. Battered. Community. Dear @US_FDA, CHANGE THAT NOW," he tweeted.
The lifetime prohibition against gay and bisexual men donating blood — enacted in 1983 to protect those receiving blood transfusions from being infected with HIV — was lifted in December, when the FDA announced the new policy. But some activists say the new policy is still discriminatory.
OneBlood, the nonprofit clinic in Orlando, put out a call for blood early Sunday. By early afternoon, it thanked donors on its website, said it was at capacity and asked donors to give over the next few days.
But on Twitter it also cautioned against false reports that FDA guidelines had been lifted. All FDA guidelines remain in effect, it said.