The Rainbow Project, the largest organisation in Northern Ireland, which promotes the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender people has launched the second phase of its campaign to remove unnecessary and stigmatising barriers to gay and bisexual men becoming blood donors on World Blood Donor Day (14th June).
Earlier this month, 8 days after her appointment to the position of Minister of Health for Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill MLA announced that she would instruct the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service to amend its protocols and remove the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. This move brought Northern Ireland into line with the other regions of the UK and was welcomed by The Rainbow Project as a historic decision as well as recognition of the campaigning which The Rainbow Project and many other activists have been vocal about for 10 years.
However, the new regulations state that gay and bisexual men can only become blood donors if they have refrained from sex with another man for 12 months, meaning that the vast majority of gay and bisexual men are still barred from becoming donors, even those in long-term monogamous relationships who pose absolutely no risk to the blood supply.
To this end, The Rainbow Project has announced that it will continue to campaign for blood donation policies which are based on evidence and risk and not on the sexual orientation of potential donors; a policy which stigmatises gay and bisexual men. The Rainbow Project has also announced that it will form a partnership with US-based advocacy organisation Blood Equality to highlight the international nature of the bans on blood donations from gay and bisexual men and to share best practice and evidence.
Speaking about the blood donations campaign and international partnership, John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project said: ‘We were delighted to see the end of the lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, and we thank Minister O’Neill for moving so quickly on this policy change. However, as we have made clear for many years, we do not just want to exchange the lifetime ban for an unreasonable one year deferral. Instead we want blood donation policies which are based on science not stigma and which do not automatically write off a whole community as a ‘threat’ to others.
‘At The Rainbow Project, we recognise that this issue is not merely confined to Northern Ireland or the UK, but is a global issue where gay and bisexual men are denied the ability to donate blood for no other reason than their sexual orientation. To this end, we are delighted to announce our partnership with the US-based organisation Blood Equality who, like us, are campaigning for blood donation policy to be based on science and not stigma. This partnership will allow us to develop more international links for sourcing and sharing the best available scientific evidence so that we can finally do away with discriminatory blood bans and have blood donation policy based on risk and not sexual orientation.
‘This international partnership is important to us to show our solidarity with our LGB&T family across the world and to build relationships with our community in other countries. At this time, we mourn the horrendous violence and loss of life from the homophobic attack on Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, but a bitter irony is that, while hospitals were calling out for blood donations to save the lives of victims, gay and bisexual men were still banned from donating blood to their LGB&T sisters and brothers. This must end.’