opinion

'Gay and bi men should continue to donate blood when they can, despite flawed rules'

A discriminatory system should not mean we refuse to help those in need if we can, writes Freedom to Donate founder Ethan Spibey.

2020-05-26

With the recent coverage of the ongoing Covid-19 plasma trial excluding gay and bisexual men, the current rules on who and who can’t donate are back under the spotlight, and rightly so.

The team behind the trial says that gay and bi men who have had sex in the last three months cannot take part and that this is in line with the existing rules on blood donation and quite frankly, it’s time that changed.

This policy is not only unfair, but short-sighted, when the blood service itself is calling for more male donors. However, many of us are questioning that given gay and bi men have been exluded for so long, should we donate even if we could?

I’m hugely passionate about this topic, it’s something that’s extremely personal to me and it led me to launch FreedomToDonate - a campaign set up to call for anyone who could safely donate the ability to do so.

We’ve had a lot of success along the way, securing the last review into blood donation guidelines and working alongside our LGBTQ charity partners to secure a world-leading blood donation policy for gay and bi men. But there’s still more to do.

We have always said that a fair and sensible policy would be one that assessed individual risk, rather than broadly judging people on their sexuality. We believe this would not only result in a more equal policy for all, but allow the NHS Blood & Transplant service to access the male donors it so desperately needs from the thousands of new donors this policy could unlock.

Ethan Spibey is the founder of FreedomToDonate

But since the increased focus from the plasma trial, more and more people have been in touch with us saying that even if they could donate, they wouldn’t. After all, why engage in a system which has systematically and consistently ignored the potential of gay and bi men to donate?

For me, the answer is simple. This isn’t really about gay and bi men, this is about securing a safe and sufficient supply of blood. Yes, I understand acutely just how enraging a policy is which disallows any gay or bi man who other than their sexuality would be able to donate but this is arguably much bigger than any individual’s ability to donate blood.

The reason I set up FreedomToDonate was because my grandad survived a major operation, needing around 8 pints of blood. What if those donors who supplied the blood which saved his life had decided not to engage with the system because it wasn’t fair or perfect? The answer is I wouldn’t have spent an extra five years with a man who helped bring me up, someone I considered akin to a parent.

Yes, the system is flawed, and yes, we relentlessly campaign for change but in my opinion, that doesn’t mean we should withdraw our support for the families and individuals whose lives literally depend on donors coming forward.

It’s easy to walk away and easier still to criticise and call out, but what we’re offering, through our support for an individualised risk-based policy, is a system which not only would allow more people than ever before the ability to donate blood, but would unlock the potential of thousands of donors, including gay and bi men, so we too can do something small but incredible.

Donating blood saves lives. We’re closer than we’ve ever been to a policy that is both equal and pragmatic. Withholding your blood in protest when you could donate helps no one, least of all people like my grandad.

Ethan Spibey is the founder of FreedomToDonate.