In December 2020, a blanket rule preventing queer men from donating blood was lifted – in the words of the government, a ‘landmark change’. But what does this mean, and why has it taken so long?
Men who have had oral or anal sex with a man in the previous three months were previously prevented from giving blood, allegedly because these are the highest risk behaviours in terms of STD transmission. This decision was made in the 80s in response to HIV/AIDS, when there was no quick and easy test to determine the presence of the virus. However non-monogamous straight men have never been prevented from giving blood despite the risk.
Unsurprisingly, this rule was often broken by queer men who found it discriminatory that they were banned from giving blood, despite practising safe sex and having regular check-ups to ensure they had no STDs. Small wonder - disqualifying people on the grounds of their sexual orientation is the definition of discrimination. It’s also heteronormative as all get-out: anal and oral are not sexual behaviours exclusive to queer men.
But now, starting from summer 2021, all donors who have had only one sexual partner in the last three months will now be allowed to donate regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or behaviour. The move has been welcomed by campaigners who have fought to overturn rules that ‘perpetuate inequality’.
Queer rights groups such as FreedomToDonate, founded by Ethan Spibey, have been campaigning for the right to give blood for six years. Spibey says that the relaxation of these restrictions is ‘warmly welcome’ and making safety restrictions that are ‘risk-based’ (i.e. based on a person’s behaviour, rather than on their sexual orientation) is a step in the right direction for inclusivity. And we couldn’t agree more.