It’s that time of year again when the good people at National Blood Service put on their Santa hats and bring out the festive cheer by the bucket load in order to recruit as many people as possible, new and existing, into heading down to their nearest donation centre and donating blood. And rightly so. Giving blood is an important, and highly rewarding, thing to do. It’s a vital service in the NHS. It saves lives; in emergencies and treating people with long-term conditions. Why wouldn’t somebody want to donate? Especially at Christmas…
What many people aren’t aware of is that most gay and bisexual men are banned from giving blood. I say most. Let’s be fair about this. The Blood Service doesn’t discriminate against gay people, just men who have sex with other men (MSM). It’s not a lifetime ban – that rule was changed in 2011 following a review by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs – so now it’s just a referral period of 12 months. And ladies, if you’ve had sex with a MSM in the last 12 months, you’re banned too. Sorry.
But hang on – you always practice safe sex and use a condom? That doesn’t matter either. Essentially, somebody at the Department of Health has looked at a pile of statistics related to HIV and other blood-borne viruses and infections and decided that the blood of gay and bisexual men is at too high of a risk of carrying them and compromising the safety of blood donations – along with sex workers and people who have injected themselves with drugs. You can’t argue with facts. HIV might well be more prevalent within the LGBT community, but the decision to individually risk assess your own behaviour isn’t one that MSM are deemed competent enough to make for themselves.
Seems pretty unfair, right? It’s discrimination. The Blood Service makes it quite clear it’s not to do with somebody’s sexuality but their practice. But yet two consenting adults who are in a monogamous relationship and only practice safe sex using a condom are still banned? Something doesn’t quite add up there.
So next time you’re bragging about giving your half-a-litre of the red stuff, just spare a thought for the likes of me who would like nothing better than to save a life this Christmas, but can’t, because I’m gay.