Prior to 2011 sexually active gay men in the United Kingdom were banned for life from donating blood because of a fear of HIV/AIDS. The National Blood Service has consistently argued that the ban was needed ensure the protection of public health. The biggest change to this happened in 2011 when the guidelines were eased and gay men had to abstain from sexual activity for a year before they could donate blood. Many described this as a big step forward and one that was headed in the right direction. However I write from the viewpoint that this ban is discriminatory, still shockingly out of date and one that paints a terrible picture of LGBT people.
The ban that is currently in place means that any man who has had sexual contact of any kind with a member of the same-sex is automatically barred from donating blood for a year. As a young sexually active gay man this means for the time being I will never be able to donate blood unless I abstain from sexual contact for a year. Some people would say, "if you're so desperate to donate blood, then why don't you do that?" My answer very simply is why should I have to?
At one point in time I might even have been one of the people to agree with the blood ban and how it was put in place. In the 1980s and even 1990s HIV/AIDS had a massive impact on the LGBT communities around the world but maintaining the ban on gay men donating blood is out of date and flies in the face of the knowledge we have amassed today. If we look back to the 1980s HIV/AIDS was originally called GRIDS (Gay Related Immune Deficiency), fast forward 30 years look how far we've come. Surely the knowledge from back then shouldn't be what we use as our basis now. Yes HIV impacts on the LGBT communities to this day but it impacts on every community. It is a disease, it doesn't discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.
However in an effort to prevent HIV/AIDS entering the blood supply measures have been taken that are discriminatory and measures that paint a terrible picture of the LGBT community. Today more heterosexuals have HIV than ever before and heterosexual people are equally likely to partake in risky sexual behaviour. A heterosexual man who has multiple sexual partners (working on the assumption they are not sex workers) and donate blood without any questions being asked. Whereas two gay men in a perfectly monogamous relationship shall face a complete ban on ever donating blood.
In terms of equal rights this blood ban, whether it be a year or on a more permanent basis massively holds the UK back from granting full and complete recognition to the LGBT community as equal citizens. Earlier this year Parliament passed the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act that would as it suggests grant LGBT people the right to marriage. However the blood ban creates an inequality in this, married heterosexual couples can donate but married homosexual couples will not be able to donate. This is a massive irregularity under the law.
I am not for a moment suggesting that gay men should not be privy to the same procedure as heterosexuals, I am merely asking that gay men be treated the same. I am not asking for an iota of difference in how blood is donated for homosexuals and heterosexuals. The ban carries with it the representation that gay men are not responsible or are more likely to go out and contract STIs. So yes for the time being I am insulted, the talk of easing the blood ban does nothing for someone like me who is perfectly healthy and sensible in what I do. We've come along way in 30 years, it's time for society and the law to reflect that.