Today is a significant day for gay and bi men, as the UK government makes the proposals from FreedomToDonate official policy meaning everyone, regardless of sex or sexuality, will be assessed as individuals.
The change really cannot be underestimated. Currently, gay and bi men who have had sexual contact with another man in the previous three months are unable to donate – essentially excluding any sexually active gay or bi man regardless of the nature of the sexual contact.
This isn’t just a blanket policy which is quite frankly offensive, but one which typecast an entire population: the loser was every single one of us who will one day rely on blood supplies – 1 in 4 of us, according to NHS Blood and Transplant’s own figures
Today’s announcement is also about more than whether gay and bi men have been offended by outdated policies. For many of us, blood donation is a deeply personal topic, and one which is literally the difference between life and death. This move helps ensure a forward-looking blood donation service can continue to provide a safe and sufficient supply, whilst also making sure that the guidelines that govern the collection of blood are fair and equal.
And those guidelines today have taken a groundbreaking shift away from where the policy once was. Announced this morning, people will be asked about their specific sexual behaviour – not about whether they had slept with a man, or even about their relationship. It’s about an objective medical analysis of risk associated with specific behaviours for specific individuals. And the importance of that cannot be downplayed.
The new policy means potentially thousands of gay and bi men who are sexually active can still make the life-saving gesture of safely donating blood, and that is something we should surely all welcome.
Ethan Spibey is the founder of Freedom to Donate
That’s not to say there aren’t still areas for improvement: Those on PrEP are still restricted from donating, due to a lack of evidence on the impact of the HIV-prevention medication in relation to blood donation safety. More questions could also be included to better tailor the individual risk assessment, and it’s right we continue to push for that.
But it’s also important that we recognise how we got here. Charities and campaigners have literally spent years crafting and influencing a policy which, for a criteria-based assessment model, like the one we have here in the UK, is unparalleled in its inclusivity anywhere in the world.
After a hugely challenging year, the fact that more of us can make the potentially life-saving decision to donate blood is something that is not just positive for our community, but for anyone and everyone who relies on a simple yet powerful gesture that so many take for granted.