Northern Ireland’s largest LGB&T support and advocacy organisation has welcomed the removal of the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood but has warned that its replacement with a ban on those men who have had sex within the past 12 months means it is unlikely to allow for more than a handful to donate.
Speaking ahead of the first day when donations from gay and bisexual men can be accepted in Northern Ireland, Director of The Rainbow Project, John O’Doherty said: ‘Some media outlets seem to be expecting crowds of gay and bisexual men to line up to donate blood tomorrow. This is not going to happen. While we were hugely thankful to Health Minister Michelle O’Neill for abandoning the illogical approach to blood donations from her predecessors and bringing Northern Ireland into line with the other regions of the UK, we have always said that replacing a lifetime ban with a ban on those who have not had sex within the past 12 months was unlikely to lead to any substantial numbers of gay and bisexual men donating blood because many of them, like the rest of the population have had sex at least once this year.
‘Removing the lifetime ban was the first step in moving towards a blood donation system which is based on the risk posed by potential donors, and not their sexual orientation but there are still irrational barriers placed in the way of gay and bisexual men when they want to donate blood. There are still different criteria for gay and bisexual men than there are for their heterosexual counterparts which we hope will be addressed when SABTO reports later this year.
‘There must be a recognition that two men in a monogamous relationship pose zero risk to the blood supply. They cannot magically create HIV between them. And yet as long as they have sex they will never be allowed to donate blood. This is not science, it is stigma.
‘The Rainbow Project will continue to campaign for a completely risk-based blood donation system where scientific and medical evidence are the only considerations as to who may and may not donate blood.’