UK to Implement 'Landmark' Shift in Gay Blood Donor Policy

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday December 14, 2020

The United Kingdom is set to enact "landmark" revisions to its policy around openly gay blood donors, The New York Times reports.

The UK's current policy constitutes a "blanket ban" on donations from gay and bi men for a period of three months after their most recent experience of "oral or anal sex" with another man, the article said, and makes no provisions for same-sex couples in sexually exclusive relationships. (Similar restrictions do not apply to heterosexual men, however.)

Those restrictions are about to change. The Times reports, "A statement released on Monday by the National Health Service removes the three-month barrier and says that gay and bisexual men who have had the same sexual partner for more than three months will be allowed to donate if there is no known exposure to a sexually transmitted infection and they are not using drugs to stop the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS."

"This change to a more individualized approach is more appropriate and nuanced and helps to destigmatize H.I.V.," the head of the National AIDS Trust, Deborah Gold, said.

Freedom to Donate founder Ethan Spibey put it a different way. "We have for so many years felt as if we were dirty," he told the Times, going on to say that the changes will mean that "people are being assessed on their sexual behavior, not their sexuality."

The change will take place amid increasing criticism toward such policies in nations around the globe, including the U.S. and Australia, with LGBTQ advocates noting the glaring discrepancy in how gay and straight men have been categorized and health professionals warning that the restrictions sharply reduce the amount of donated blood available for hospitals.

The global CVOD-19 pandemic has further increased pressure on governments to reconsider such blood donation restrictions. Donations have dropped sharply since the pandemic struck, the Times noted.

In the U.S., the pandemic's effects on the blood supply led to a shift from a yearlong period when gay and bisexual men had to refrain from sexual contact before donating blood to the current three-month "no sex" period. But the familiar disparity remained: Sexually active heterosexual men, even those who have multiple partners, are not required to wait.

Health professionals question the need for such restrictions on a scientific basis, pointing to modern blood screening techniques that virtually guarantee blood for recipients will be free of STDs and other pathogens.

The Times reported that "more than 500 doctors, researchers and public health specialists in the United States signing a letter calling on the authorities to eliminate the constraints.

" 'We are not advocating for relaxing standards that would compromise the safety of our blood supply,' the doctors wrote. 'Instead, we advocate for scientifically driven standards that uphold the utmost safety of the blood supply and simultaneously promote equity and reverse historical discrimination in blood donation.' "

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.