Corrections & clarifications: An earlier version of this story misstated conditions for blood donations.
Chandler Bryla, 24, of Orlando woke up at 5:30 a.m. to a call from his friend, checking to make sure he was OK. That’s when he first heard that the deadliest shooting spree in U.S. history has just taken place at a gay nightclub he frequents — the first gay club he’d ever gone to in Orlando.
Frantically, he started contacting all of his friends, a number of whom he found out had been injured when a heavily armed man opened fire in Pulse Nightclub, killing 50 and injuring 53.
After the tragedy, thousands went out to donate blood, something a sexually active gay man can't do. The federal Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation is to not accept blood donations from gay men if they've had sex in the past year.
"As a homosexual this morning I was irate, I was frustrated that I thought I wouldn’t be able to donate just because I am gay,” Bryla said. “It’s going to be frustrating that I can’t do this humanitarian act for my community."
Gay and bisexual men in the United States were barred from donating blood for more than 30 years, since the early days of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. In 2015, the policy changed to allow donations as long as men hadn’t had sex with other men in the previous 12 months. An advocacy group called National Gay Blood Drive said it supported the decision, that it was "still discriminatory."
"While many gay and bisexual men will be eligible to donate their blood and help save lives under this 12-month deferral, countless more will continue to be banned solely on the basis of their sexual orientation and without medical or scientific reasoning,” the group said in a statement.
Bryla says the turnout at blood drives in Orlando has been enormous. "The amount of support and love that came from this devastating tragedy is overwhelming,” Bryla says. "It just means a lot to me and to my community as well."
The turnout has been so big, traffic is snarled in the area, and OneBlood started turning donors away because it ran out of supplies.
"All the roads are closed off and I was hoping to donate blood, but obviously the hospital is blocked off and they said don't go there anymore," said Rob Rothaug, who lives nearby.
Bryla arrived at the OneBlood donation facility around 10:45 a.m. and he estimated that the line was already 1,000 people long. People were parking on the grass and sidewalk to get in line. Others walked through the crowds, passing out water, bagels, sunscreen and Gatorade. "It meant a lot seeing that kind of closeness in the community."