UK Approves New, Less Strict Rules Around Gay, Bi Men Donating Blood

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday June 14, 2021

The U.K. has marked World Blood Donor Day (June 14) by relaxing what some have called overly strict rules around gay and bisexual men donating blood, the Independent has reported.

"The new eligibility criteria ... mean donors will no longer be asked if they are a man who has had sex with another man, NHS Blood and Transplant said," per the report.

"Instead, any individual who attends to give blood regardless of gender will be asked if they have had sex and, if so, about recent sexual behaviors," the article adds. "Anyone who has had the same sexual partner for the last three months will be eligible to donate, meaning more gay and bisexual men will be able to donate blood, platelets and plasma while keeping blood just as safe."

As EDGE previously reported, those changes had been announced late last year.

The change was enacted "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," EDGE noted at the time. Meanwhile, "health professionals [warned] that the restrictions sharply [reduced] the amount of donated blood available for hospitals," a situation exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This change is about switching around how we assess the risk of exposure to a sexual infection, so it is more tailored to the individual," Ella Poppitt, the NHS Blood and Transplant's chief nurse for blood donation, told the media.

The report adds, "All donors will now be asked about sexual behaviors which might have increased their risk of infection, particularly recently acquired infections. This means some donors might not be eligible on the day but may be in the future."

The BBC detailed that men with more than one sexual partner within the last three months would still be ineligible to donate blood. The change "follows a review ... which concluded switching to an individualized, gender-neutral approach was fairer and maintained the safety of the blood supply."

Similar changes might be on the horizon in the United States. The FDA announced last December that it would look into whether self-reporting by prospective donors might replace the current ban on donations by gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men. That ban makes men who have had sexual contact with other men within the last three months ineligible for blood donations, regardless of whether or not they are partnered and exclusive — a restriction heterosexual men do not face.

The bans are a holdover from the peak of the AIDS epidemic when the science of checking blood donations for the presence of pathogens was not as advanced as it is now. The original ban was lifelong for gay and bisexual men. That changed to a year of celibacy (or, at least, not having sex with other men) in order for gay and bisexual men to donate. As the pandemic wore on the restrictions were adjusted once again, to their current three-month status.

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.