"We've mounted as much pressure as can be mounted," Stramer said. "Now it's a question of time... The best we can hope for is a gradual change in policy."
Stramer doubts there will be any groundbreaking findings from current studies. Their goals include evaluating the questionnaire presented to potential blood donors to ascertain their risk level, assessing the risk that quarantined blood donations might accidentally be released into the blood supply before being cleared via testing, and examining the phenomenon of some gay and bisexual men thwarting the ban by not acknowledging their sexual activity.
HHS, in a statement provided to members of Congress, said it hoped the studies would yield data sufficient to support a reassessment of the lifetime ban.
"The Department is committed to a full evidence-based evaluation," HHS said. "If the data indicate that a change is possible while protecting the blood supply, we will consider a change to the policy."
Moulton, the Human Rights Campaign official, says he is frustrated that the ban persists and yet acknowledges that scientific data gleaned through deliberative studies could help strengthen the case for change.
"I hope people understand there is a public health aspect to this that isn't there in other aspects of the (gay-rights) movement," he said. "We understand HHS is doing what they have to do."
Dr. Louis Katz of America's Blood Centers, a national network of community-based blood programs, favors replacing the lifetime ban with a ban on donations from men who've had male-on-male sex in the past 12 months. Though he shares the frustrations of more militant advocates, he advises them not to view the FDA as antagonists.
"The FDA is not homophobic — they are risk-averse," said Katz, the network's executive vice president. "We are going to get rational on this only by being patient and dogged."