Student tackling blood donation discrimination

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A Lancaster student is making plans to bring national twitter campaign #PutRedBack to our campus. Masters student David Whitlock says he passionately believes in the cause and aims to organise a similar campaign to #PutRedBack, which aims for the law to base the right to donate on behaviour rather than sexuality, to increase visibility locally.

Current laws have tight restrictions on blood donations from Men Who Sleep With Men (MSM) or women who have slept with MSM, regardless of use of protection. Whilst many others are free to donate blood whenever they so choose, even if they have had unprotected sex, MSM and their other female partners face a deferral period of 12 months following intercourse before they are deemed to be “safe”.

Every day over 6,000 blood donations are needed just to keep up with hospital demand. In the previous year (2014/15), 1.71 million donations were taken from volunteer blood donors for NHS Blood and Transplant . This equates to a rolling blood supply which can only last 285 days a year. Worryingly, this equates to an average of 80 days where there is blood supplies cannot keep up with demand of those in need.

It is estimated that the current prohibitions mean approximately 5% of the UK population are not allowed to donate.

Whitlock has said he is “committed to making a positive by raising awareness amongst people of the issue, as well as a practical one in trying to increase donations amongst those who are eligible.” He believes not many people “know of it or kind of just forget about it. [There are] forever calls regarding blood shortages, but if you automatically cut off around 5% of the population it does not seem very effective”.

Cheil UK strategist Tim Polder, who came up with the idea for the #PutRedBack campaign while training to be a doctor in the Netherlands, told Gay Times Magazine: “Current blood donations guidelines are based on an outdated notion of safety that targets gay men irrationally.

“Yes, there should be guidelines, but they should be based on the behaviour of all potential donors and not on their sexuality. Under current guidelines, it’s difficult for gay men to save lives by making a contribution to blood stocks.”

Whitlock, a former LUSU Officer, says that his hopes for the campaign is for “allied and LGBTQ+ people [to sign] a petition to allow MSM to donate blood.” Mainly though, he’d like non-eligible LGBTQ+ persons to fill a blood bag with ‘fake blood’. This is to give a visual interpretation of how much blood the accompanying drive has missed out on, due to the “frankly prejudiced rules” in place around blood donation. After the event, pictures and individual letters will be sent to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, along with the petition. He also intends to write to local papers to try and spread the message within the local community.

In more practical terms, Whitlock also hopes to arrange for LGBTQ+ people to ‘nominate a mate’ to give blood in their place, which it is hoped will show that twice as much blood could have been given whilst still ensuring help reaches those who need it. “I don’t intend for this to be a one-off. I think it’s an important issue that needs to keep momentum and really make a difference.”

To be able to produce a more cross-campus and community wide appeal, Whitlock has already begun reaching out to LUSU’s Equality, Welfare and Diversity Council, LGBTQ+ Association and local groups such as ‘Out in the Bay’.

Blood drives on campus used to occur frequently, but over the last year these have all but disappeared.

LUSU Vice President (Campaigns and Communications), Katie Capstick, fully supports the campaign, telling SCAN:

“Before I heard of the plans for this campaign, I had no idea that gay men could not give blood so I think it’s amazing that a student is raising awareness of this issue and taking direct action to achieve equality. Personally, I find it incomprehensible and unacceptable that people are still being discriminated against due to their sexual orientation. Therefore, I will be supporting Dave throughout this process and I hope it is a success”

With dates and locations are currently being finalised at the time of print, SCAN hopes to publish more information in future editions.

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