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Like most people, I was quick to celebrate when the announcement was made that the Government was seeking to lift the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood. This was an issue that had come up time and time again and many equality groups have worked hard over the years to campaign for it. I was, naturally, fast onto Twitter to share the good news that I’d finally be able to give blood like so many of my friends who have been doing so for years. I was wrong.
Unfortunately I had been premature. Further reading revealed that the lifetime ban was indeed gone but that a dark shadow of it remains entrenched in British law. Defenders of the law argued that it would save time to eliminate “high risk” donors from the register, despite infections being just as likely to show up on the screening of blood given by a heterosexual person.
The phrasing of “high risk” is something I find interesting. The Government decided to follow apparently mainstream medical advice that a one-year ban should remain. In other words, you can give blood and be gay but in order to do so you must go cold turkey for a year. This seems like a bizarre rule. If we’re talking risk, surely everybody should be celibate for a year to reduce the chances of a blood disease slipping through the net? Yet the Government seems to think that an equally-applied blanket ban on sexually active individuals would be unfair, arguing that the risk associated with gay men outweighs the equality factor.
Normally I’d be inclined to agree, but it’s hard to do so when in banning a demographic based on sexual behaviour you don’t apply it equally. Not only do heterosexuals who have had sex in the last year have the option of giving blood, but this also applies to commercial sex workers. I am one of the biggest advocates for the welfare provision of commercial sex workers but when a prostitute is allowed to donate and a gay man in a committed civil partnership of a decade who only gets sex at Christmas and on his anniversary is not, I begin to question whether this equality factor has even been applied at all.
The other part that I find odd is that women are asked when donating if any of their sexual partners in the last year have been men who have had sex with men in the last year. I don’t know about you, ladies, but my previous girlfriends have certainly never stopped to ask detailed questions about things like that even when they’ve been aware of my sexuality. It’s not exactly considered polite conversation.
So the law has its flaws as usual. I’m happy celibate gay and bisexual men can finally give blood and I’m sure that lives will be saved, but in the meantime a good proportion of our population including myself are still banned; if you get a chance; give them a few drops on our behalf.