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Gay Men Allowed to Give Blood in Britain

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

Kate Byng-Hall reports on the historic ruling that allows more LGBT+ men to donate blood in England, Scotland and Wales.

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Photo by Renate Vanaga

In a historic ruling, gay men in sexually active, monogamous relationships in England, Scotland and Wales are now permitted to donate blood. This means that the majority of people aged 17-65 are now eligible to donate blood in Britain.

Before this new legislation, any man had to wait three months after having sex with another man before being able to donate. Anyone who engages in anal sex with a new or multiple partners – regardless of gender – will still have to abstain for three months before making a donation of blood, platelets or plasma. The new rules came into effect on 14th June 2021 – World Blood Donor Day.

Why Did the Rule Exist in the First Place?

Men who have sex with men (MSM) have been prohibited from donating blood in Britain until now because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic of the 1980s. In 1980, the UK government ruled in favour of a lifetime blood donation ban for any MSM and the legislation stood for 41 years, arguably partly due to persisting stigma around both HIV/AIDS and gay sex itself.

Considering the AIDS pandemic was one of the biggest health scares of the decade, and HIV can be passed on very easily through contact with contaminated blood, the implementation of the ban is unsurprising and was certainly crucial to protect the health of transfusion recipients at the time.

However, the ban has been controversial for several years considering the end of the pandemic and modern HIV screening techniques which campaigners say make a delay in donation unnecessary. Campaigners argued that if MSM engage in safe, monogamous sex, do not have an STD and are not receiving treatment for HIV, there is no reason they should not be eligible to donate blood.

"It is great to see these changes coming into force, especially after so many people in the LGBT+ community have fought and campaigned for changes to the rules around blood donation for such a long time. These changes are welcomed, but there is still a great deal of work to do in achieving absolute equality in the blood donation space." – Blood Equality Wales

A Step Towards Equality

A potential increase in blood donors across England, Scotland and Wales will be a welcome development. Blood donations are in high demand across Britain, with around 5,000 donations required every single day to meet the needs of the NHS. This means that 135,000 new donors are needed every year, and sign-ups consistently fall short; allowing a new portion of the population to donate could make a real difference to people who desperately need transfusions.

These developments have made Britain one of the most progressive countries in the world in terms of allowing MSM to donate blood, and it’s a hopeful step towards creating parity between heterosexual and LGBT+ individuals.

"It is only fair in today's society that everyone's behaviours should be treated the same and not by the gender of their partner." – Carl, a married gay man who’s already donated in Wales

If you want to sign up to donate blood, you can check your eligibility here.


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