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Articles > LGBTQ+ June, 08, 2014

Save lives and donate blood – unless you’re gay

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The start of a typical week at university: too much work, not enough sleep and far too much caffeine. Walking through campus on a surprisingly warm morning in March I notice signs for a blood drive taking place over the next few days. What you might not know, is that in this little corner of the United Kingdom, it is still illegal to donate blood if you are gay or bisexual.

It seems the law is only discriminatory to gay males as it makes no mention of lesbian sex. Perhaps the health minister responsible for the ban is fond of that particular facet of homosexuality.

Myself, along with many others in Northern Ireland are faced with a dilemma: lie and donate some potentially life saving blood. Or tell the truth and go home. The logic? That it will prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. However, this is 2014 not 1974. HIV is no longer the deadly plague it once was in the western world and donated blood can be (and is) very easily, quickly and cheaply screened for all manner of diseases and abnormalities before it will be used for transfusion.


Photo By Ingmar Zahorsky

In 2011, the rest of the UK allowed blood donations from gay men providing they were abstinent (from sex) for one year. Whilst still discriminatory, it was progress for equality and more importantly, opened the door for thousands of willing donors, however, the ban remained in Northern Ireland due to the personal religious bias of NI Health Minister Edwin Poots. But, (and this is the really stupid part) health trusts throughout the United Kingdom routinely share stockpiles of blood to ensure proper distribution and that blood for transfusion goes where it’s most needed. Simply put, blood from a perfectly healthy gay male in Liverpool, has most likely already saved the life of a hospital patient in Belfast, making the donation ban completely illogical and downright idiotic.

I am not alone in my opinion. In October of last year, Mr. Justice Treacy of the High Court in Belfast ruled that the health minister did not have the authority to maintain the ban, that he displays bias going beyond religious belief and into prejudice and finally, that the ban is simply “irrational” given the sharing of supplies between NI and the mainland. The ban however remains and the minister has been very active in his efforts to dodge the issue.

Whilst blood donation is important for the health and well-being of us all, if we are ever in the unfortunate position of requiring a transfusion, this ban is damaging in a more profound way. Young gay people are being told (however subliminally), “no, we do not want your help”. That that your blood is “diseased; wrong”. When added to the daily discrimination already faced by many young gay people and the fact that it comes from their own government, it is hardly surprising that 52% of LGBT youth have received medical treatment for depression (BBC) and that Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate in the British isles (ONS), a significant portion of which being committed by LGBT teens.

Not only would lifting this ban be right and just in the eyes of the law, advancing equality but it would improve supplies of blood for transfusion and prevent a damaging psychological message; both of which will save lives. What do you think?

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  1. Bethan Roberts

    It’s such a primitive and close minded way of thinking to say that gay men have blood that would be dangerous to give to others. HIV isn’t an exclusive infection to them, and the blood gets screened anyway so I fail to see the problem. Surely it should be more of a reason to have them screened, just in case they’re unaware if they happen to have HIV or AIDs?

    I have personally stopped giving blood as my friend has been turned down once he became sexually active. They’re crying out for blood donors and the gay community is a vast amount of people, so surely it’s time to rid this ridiculous law and start saving lives.

  2. Carl

    I think…I don’t see a problem if you haven’t got hiv or AIDS

  3. Anita Klich

    I cannot understand why gay people are not allowed to give their blood. It does not really matter if you’re gay or not. People who are happy to help those ones that need it should be appreciated, not discriminated.

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  5. Caitlin Willis

    Considering this is the same bit of land that is the last stand of good old-fashioned homophobia still in the political mainstream, the blood-donation ban doesn’t shock me whatsoever. The truth is that NI is behind the rest of the UK in so many ways, which is incredibly sad. Change isn’t likely to happen in the next 5 years, as there are too many powerful people who are archaic in their mindset. But hopefully the tide could turn eventually.

  6. Bell

    This is more of institutional bias, and while it’s incredibly cruel and just a bit primitive, I think it’s a little far fetched to say it causes suicide in an age group who won’t donate till they are 17. I think more pressing issues is public opinion and the use of ‘gay’ as an insult in schools and bullying (which schools either do to unrelatable extremes or too mildly)

  7. Indra

    How is this still a thing? Blood goes through routine checks before it is given to others and even straight blood is just as likely to get rejected as blood given by someone from the gay community. Furthermore, female bisexuals and lesbians are exempt from this discrimination as well…wow.

  8. chloe fehler

    This to me is a way people show how they feel maybe not in a good way and in a way that is what we call homophobia as i am gay and know how the society and community sometimes treat people, this is nothing to do with tradition or abnormalities this is to do with the way why do we not make straight people feel the way they sometimes make us feel we are all huan at the end of the day.

  9. becky samuels

    Presumably they would test all blood donated anyway wouldn’t they? So what does it matter if you identify as gay, straight, bi or otherwise? And why isn’t this restriction on gay/bi+ women? Silly, backwards, discriminatory bans.

    • Laura

      There’s no reason for this restriction to be on gay/bi women Becky, because their HIV transmission rates are very low. So low in fact that a case of transmission between 2 women in 2012 had a paper written about it:
      The thing is, the ban on MSM was based on their susceptibility to HIV (not saying that the stigma and hysteria surrounding gay men during the 80s didn’t play into this). So to be fair it’s not just about being gay, it’s aboyt your risk factor for HIV and that’s why WSW aren’t banned.

  10. Sophie Clarke

    I think this is disgusting nowadays! It should not matter who you are, where your from or what your personal circumstances are, anyone should be able to give blood willingly. Especially seen as there is such a shortage of blood, allowing this could save thousands of peoples lives a year? Surely that is worth more than lousy peoples opinions on sexuality?!!!!

  11. Rebecca Amos

    When I was in school, we had an assembly on donating blood. When I heard the part about gay men not being able to donate if they’d had oral or anal sex, I was really confused. My mum has been donating blood for a long time now and I know from all the times that I’ve gone with her to her appointments that they do a finger-prick test before you donate in order to check for diseases such as HIV etc. I don’t understand why gay men are still not allowed to donate. If they’re willing to do tests to prove that they haven’t contracted any diseases, then it shouldn’t be a problem. One of my close friends was turned away minutes before he was due to donate blood, simply because he mentioned that he was gay. It’s very confusing. I can’t decide whether this is just an extra measure to ensure safety, or if it genuinely is homophobia. Either way, this ban should definitely be lifted. Blood will always be needed to save lives. Why should we limit who can and can’t donate?

    • Nika Ziecina

      I would just like to point out that although blood is tested for diseases, it is not through the finger-pick test; said test is used to determine whether you have enough iron in your blood to donate, which is entirely to ensure your own well-being.

  12. Matthew Hall

    It should not matter on the personals sexual ordination. There are many things that can be done like tests for HIV before and after the blood is taken. Just because a person hasn’t had sex with another male in the past year does not mean they could be unaware they are HIV+ also females can be HIV+ and there’s nothing stopping them giving blood if they’ve had sex in the past year!

  13. Kimberley Jameson

    A persons sexual orientation should not matter when it comes to the possibility of saving lives. I can’t believe there are still places that don’t allow gay men to donate blood. Blood is blood, I say if it may save a life, then it should be allowed.

  14. Elizabeth Fovargue

    I honestly can not see why everyone needs to be treated differently due to their sexual preferences. Were all the same, whether we like the opposite or same sex. Donating blood is about being about to help, change and save lives. It should not contribute to discrimination to gay people. I give blood knowing that somewhere I’m helping other people, and that’s a great feeling so why should people that like the same sex be defined that feeling! I hope they lift the ban and give everyone an equal choice.

  15. lewis marshall

    Why does it matter whether the donor is gay or not? If they have the determination and guts and kindness to donate blood that will be used to save someone’s life then they should be allowed (obviously only if their blood contains no diseases). Blood is blood, simple as.


    This is terrible in 2014 to be biased over such a simple thing is narrow minded and stupid so would this minister refuse blood from a gay or bisexual person if it were to save his life probably not, he wouldn’t know who it was from in the first place the bags aren’t labelled what sex, age or gender the blood was from. blood is blood simple as that it saves life’s. especially since there are so many shortages of it.

  17. Eisen Eugenio

    They shud b alowd to giv they blud becuz we no hav enuf blud so evry bit of blud is gud to hav and giv to popl who ned it

  18. lucy hodgson

    this is full on homophobic. giving blood should have nothing to do with what your sexual preferences are, it should be about whether or not you’re willing to give your blood out to help other people that may be in severe need of it out there. disgusting.

  19. Jasmin Abbasi

    blood doners shouldn’t been prohibited simply because of sexual orientation, straight people can have AIDS/HIV too, it is not a solely homosexual illness therefore. Ridiculous, loose the fear people.

  20. Ashleigh Reynolds

    If this is just being homophobic then I disagree because all people should accept homosexual people.

  21. Marija Lisauskaite

    I think that this ban has nothing to do with science – it’s pure homophobia. First of all, there are ways to avoid infection. Second of all, not only gays can get HIV. Sadly, people of all genders and sexual preferences can get it if they have unsafe sex with someone infected. Therefore, lesbians or heterosexual people should avoid having sex with someone who has HIV or at least use all protections possible. That brings us to third point – if lesbians can get HIV through unprotected homosexual sex too, why do we focus on males?
    The answer is homophobia. We mostly focus on males when we talk about homosexuality (that IS sad but true) and obviously this in not an exception. Otherwise the HIV part wouldn’t be brought up through gay sex.
    They COULD have just asked “Have you ever had sex with someone who was HIV positive?” instead. They also could test the blood (which they should do anyway just to be sure). But no. Because we’d rather be homophobic than save lives.

    • Laura

      I agree with most of your points Marija, except the one about how the fact that only MSM are restricted proves it’s down to homophobia. If it was pure homophobia, women who are gay/bi would be banned too but they’re not because they have very low HIV transmission rates.

  22. Emma Fisher

    This is a ridiculous idea, it really does need to be accepted that people are bisexual/lesbian/gay, it’s 2014 for christ sake

  23. Ess

    I am now a dentist but cannot give blood, although my own has been very heavily screened for blood-borne infections and I am also vaccinated against Hep A and B. Reason being is that I had sex with someone who used IV drugs very distantly in the past.
    I’ve resigned myself to the idea that I cannot give blood, I probably would if I could but I can’t.
    Some of the points you’re making are valid, like the difference between NI and the rest of the UK but I agree with Joel that protection from blood borne illnesses through donation is all about minimising risk more than it’s about homophobia. Try not to feel put out by it.

  24. G Ames

    Ah well, I’m sure I’ll get flamed by people who place personal opinion over scientific fact and medical statistics…

    First of all, I agree that it’s silly for NI to have a different policy to the rest of the UK, especially so if the blood supply is mixed and freely exchanged as needed anyway.

    However, some of the this article seems a little misinformed and biased, so I’d like to comment and correct some of what I consider the more problematic statements.

    1) “HIV is no longer the deadly plague it once was”

    HIV still has no cure and complications arising from it – i.e. AIDS – makes it lethal. It’s often lethal even when it is being treated properly, although 5 year survival rates are good these days.

    2) “donated blood can be (and is) very easily, quickly and cheaply screened for all manner of diseases and abnormalities before it will be used for transfusion.”

    Donated blood is only routinely checked for syphilis bacterium, hepatitis b virus, hepatitis c virus, hiv and htlv

    There are hundreds of disease causing viruses, bacteria and larger parasites in the world. Wikipedia lists 215 of them, and that’s not a complete list:

    So blood is only routinely tested for less than 2.5% of pathogens.

    3) “In 2011, the rest of the UK allowed blood donations from gay men providing they were abstinent (from sex) for one year. Whilst still discriminatory…”

    This isn’t discriminatory, it’s a matter of safety. The donar form clearly states the tests may not be accurate if you’re only recently been infected. To quote:

    – You must never give blood to get a HIV test because, although we test for infections including HIV, these tests do not always show immediately if you are infected.

    However, you may well wonder why they only apply the 12 month donation rule to gay men, and not all men or all people. After all, as you say, most people have sex and HIV affects everyone, not just gay men.

    However, if you look at the statistics, taken here from the USA’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC), you find that HIV has a much higher incidence amongst gay men than any other demographic:

    The rates seem to have increased significantly, sadly reversing their incredible decline during the 1990s.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) has even taken the bizarre – and understandably much criticised – step of suggesting all(!) gay men take antiretroviral (anti-HIV) drugs as a prophylaxis to infection:

    So it’s understandable that a national health body would take additional caution over its blood supply where statistics suggest it’s in the public interest.

    If you consider that caution to actually be discriminatory, then you have to consider the following to be discriminatory too:

    – You can never ever donate if you’ve received a blood transfusion since 1st January 1980
    – You can’t donate after the age of 70 or before the age of 17
    – You can’t donate if you’re under 7 stone 12 pounds
    – You can’t donate if you’re currently pregnant or have had a baby in the last 6 months
    – You can’t donate for 12 months if you’ve had hepatitis or jaundice
    – You can’t donate for 4 months if you’ve had a piercing, tattoo, acupuncture or flexible endoscopy
    – You can’t donate for 2 weeks if you’ve had an infection of any sort
    – You can’t donate for 7 days after dental surgery (e.g. extractions) or after taking antibiotics
    – You can’t donate for 1 day after minor dental work (e.g. scale and polish or a filling)
    – You can’t donate today if your medicaton for hypertension or diabetes has changed or if you have a cold, sore throat, chesty cough or cold sore

    So are the rules ageist? Do they discriminate against mothers, the slim and those who like body decoration? Are they bigoted against people who are or have previously been sick or injured?

    Or are the rules there to protect people?

    • Robert Earp

      ‘However, if you look at the statistics, taken here from the USA’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC), you find that HIV has a much higher incidence amongst gay men than any other demographic’

      Actually, this needs to be updated. It’s now single mothers. And if you have safe sex and get tested regularly, what’s the problem? I agree, you shouldn’t donate blood after having unprotected sex, but if you are monogamous and get tested every few months then there is practically no reason to say gay men/bisexual men/women who have slept with men who have slept with men in the past year can’t give blood. The link you supplied also applied to HIV statistics in the USA. You can’t use the statistics of one country to prove a point in another.

      And yes, the law is discriminatory, because it was passed years ago on the belief that only gay men can and will eventually are infected with HIV. The law needs to be changed from ‘assess by sexuality’ to ‘assessed by risk due to sexual practice (i.e. how any sexual partners have you had in the last 6 months and have you been tested at least twice in the last 3 months)’

  25. Clare Smith

    I agree that this ban is idiotic and discriminatory. If the blood is already checked for diseases like HIV then it should be fine. They should be focusing on getting as many donations as possible, as that is more important. It shouldn’t be “we want more donations but we don’t want you if you’re gay”. It should be “we want more donations and we won’t discriminate against you because that doesn’t matter”.

  26. Daniella

    This is a prime example of the ignorance that so many people possess. These people who chose to believe that HIV is present in only homosexual relationships are also choosing to discriminate gay people. HIV is present in homosexual AND heterosexual relationships.

    Also if blood is so easily screened and checked for any diseases then surely gay people can still donate blood because if they do have a disease then it will be found in the blood and can then be discarded. Or the blood could even be sent off to be analysed and be used to conduct research on how to cure or even treat certain symptoms of HIV.

    We always see adverts from the NHS saying: donate blood…you could save a life but because of this law good people are stopped from doing a good thing. It all just seems a bit hypocritical. I do understand that the law helps to stop HIV and other diseases from being transmitted through donated blood and I agree that it is the right thing to do, however I do not believe discriminating people due to there sexual preference is acceptable.

    Just because one person has a disease such as HIV, it doesn’t mean every other gay person on the planet does too!

  27. Peter Swiggs

    TBH all the homophobic issues that the uk has we should have all realised this would still be in effect. But seriously if they are worried about the spread of a disease, such as HIV or AIDS do a test on the blood then they would know if its fine. Also with the amoutn of unprotected sex going on maybe no should donate blood lol JKZ. Either way the government does need to seriously rethink this.

  28. Shannon larravude

    fair enough if you have the HIV virus in your blood but the fact they dont even check is stupid

    • G Ames


      They do check, but HIV infection can take weeks of incubation to become detectable.

  29. Akkara Lionel Jose

    It’s really illogical because like Jamilya said below, I was always thought that it was due to some HIV but what you said hit me; It is 2014 and blood tests and screening is easier than it was those many years ago and besides how often have you seen a homeless dude that’s gay? I’m pretty sure most gay dudes are cleaner than straight dudes and seeing as how most of them follow a healthier diet their blood is bound to be better. *sigh* but what old school politician is going to see that?

    • Colin

      Akkara, you seem very ill informed.
      1) Although blood testing is indeed easier these days, its is still a cost and time intensive procedure and sometimes HIV cannot be detected if a patient has recently contracted it.
      2) “how often have you seen a homeless dude that’s gay?” That is quiet a homophobic statement, you cannot accurately judge a persons sexuality purely on how they look.
      3) “most gay dudes are cleaner than straight dudes” What the hell? Infection isn’t about your level of personal hygene. Also following a healthier diet has nothing to do with blood quality. Obviously vitamin deficiency can lead to complications, but not eating healthily will not lead you to being rejected from donation.

  30. Rachael Saxon

    I myself give blood and when you look through the leaflet about who can and can’t give blood it seems ridiculous. However, I always thought that there was a medical reason for gay men not being able to donate but after reading this article it appears the only reason is discrimination. I don’t see why it can’t be allowed if the male is perfectly healthy. Maybe then blood banks wouldn’t always be low in supplies.

  31. Jamilya

    I do not think that the ban is simply to protect patients, given that blood can be checked for any infections before infusing it into a patient.

    • G Ames


      ” I do not think that the ban is simply to protect patients, given that blood can be checked for any infections before infusing it into a patient.”

      Tests don’t exist for all pathogens, and some tests are inaccurate or incredibly costly or take several weeks due to the time required to isolate and culture the virus, bacteria or other agent.

      It’s not possible to screen for every possible infectious agent, otherwise every patient suffering from infection would be routinely screened for everything to give a definitive diagnosis of their illness.

  32. John Wadeson

    I used to gve blood up until i started to have same sex sexual relationships.
    The stereotype that STIs and HIV are still only in Gay relationships seems to still be about.
    Every person out there is or equal chance of catching the same infections. Gay Bi straight.
    Also when filling out them forms no one knows if they are telling the truth.

  33. Dominika Brosenbach

    What the hell… I want to punch those homophobes..

  34. Samantha Clegg

    This is absolutely disgusting and vile! They’re basically saying that it’s only gay people that get HIV which is absolutely wrong!

  35. Jessica Smith

    The first picture is right we shouldn’t discriminate against people at the end of the day were all human beings and who knows you could be the person who needs that blood transplant?

  36. Chloe Wells

    This is disgusting! People do not have a genetic predisposition to be gay, therefore there is nothing different from the blood of a gay person to the blood of a heterosexual person. Straight people get HIV too!!! If it’s going to save someone’s life, the last thing they should be worrying about is the sexual preference of the donor!

  37. Alessandra Mukasa

    That is ridiculous. There are plenty of straight people AND females who could easily have the HIV virus. Either way, I’m sure it can be identified somehow. They wouldn’t just take the blood without checking, right? I don’t know much about these things but I do know it would be stupid just to go with what’s on paper…

  38. Hannah Stanley

    So wrong! Makes my blood boil!

  39. Guys… There’s a higher number of HIV cases in straight people! Either everyone waits a year or no one does. I’m more a fan of the former to be honest but imagine the drop in blood stock! So i think that it should be abolished completely! HIV can be identified in stock and white blood cells are usually separated out anyway to avoid rejection!

    • G Ames


      There’s a higher number of HIV cases in straight people because there’s a 49-to-1 ratio of straight people to gay people.

      Proportionally, HIV is far more prevalent amongst gay men (especially aged 18-23, according to the CDC) than any other demographic, so it’s not about the number of people, it’s about the statistical likelihood of infection.

  40. Luke Binns

    Simple solution: Lie.

  41. Joel Le Poidevin

    I disagree with this unfortunately. The whole process of a blood transfusion, from the point of taking the blood from the donor, to the point of infusing the blood into a patient, has significant clinical risk involved – you should see the process of transporting and checking the blood within a hospital environment, it is very carefully tracked – and any measures that can be taken to reduce the clinical risk need to be taken.

    There is a broad evidence base around donating blood, and there is obviously significant evidence based rationale to suggest why homosexual men cannot donate until 12 months after they last had sex with another man. Only in 2011 did we see the number of HIV diagnoses at an all-time high, with 1 in 20 men who have sex with other men having HIV (, which obviously poses a risk to a blood recipient when coming into contact with someone else’s blood.

    I don’t think this is something that has been done to intentionally discriminate against gay men, but to protect patients.

    • Connor McIlveen

      I understand the reasons for the 12 month ban; it isn’t the issue. However, in Northern Ireland there IS intentional discrimination by a health minister abusing his authority, not allowing the province to follow the rest of the UK in moving from total ban, to 12 month ban. I simply wished to highlight this.

      • G Ames

        Yeah, that seems bizarre to me too.

  42. Tom Kite

    Great article, one of only several problems with the NHS blood donation system.

  43. Andrew Gregory

    Totally agree with this! They have had a blood drive about 3 times this academic year at my Uni in South Wales and on many occasions I have been told I should do it! Don’t get me wrong I would! But as a gay make it means I’d have to stay away from sexual contact for a year before I could even consider it! What makes it even more interesting is I have a rare blood type which I am sure they want! But I can’t give it! It’s the fact that no matter who gives blood they will screen every donation they get and it only takes a few drops of the pint you give to screen it… But yet it’s almost too much hassle to test a gay mans blood! It’s definitely discrimination and needs to be sorted soon!

  44. Ben Jones

    I think writing off gay men forever is not right, but the one year abstinence does have it’s purpose to a degree. Even if sex is protected, a penis was never physically meant to insert into an anus, and its tight, so there is a perceived higher risk of failure, plus a higher chance of laceration to the anus. This is not a problem for lesbian sex as there is no penetration. Also, statistics still show gay men having a disproportionately higher rate of HIV and hepatitis than heterosexuals. Therefore they have to turn away any who may be at risk. This is similar to how they also turn you away if you have been to places like Africa in the past year as there is the risk although it’s highly unlikely that you are infected, assuming you received all necessary vaccinations and took the medication.

    I would say however that enforcing the ban on gay men not donating is hypocritical considering a heterosexual with regular unprotected sex can still donate.

    As for the screening, they can’t simply rely on this as it (as well as any test) has a certain degree of error which they have to minimalise by turning people away.

    It’s definitely a complicated and contentious issue, however I fully support the author in removing the lifetime ban in N.I. and following the rest of the U.K. in the 1 year abstinence.

  45. Jo

    Well, let’s face it, I support the ban 100%. They should ban it again in the UK and gays should be sent to mental asylums and treated, not encouraged to engage in something that is so unnatural.

    • Robert Hellyer

      You’re kidding, right?…

  46. Sarah

    Here’s the thing, it is not banning gay and bisexual men from donating, it is banning men who have had sex with men in the past 12 months from donating, there is also a ban on women who have had sex with men, who have had sex with men. matter how hard you can try to deny it, gay and bisexual men are higher at risk from HIV and hepatitis B. 1 in 8 gay men in London suffer from HIV, 1 in 20 in the rest of the UK. And of course the blood is screened and tested, this can never be 100% accurate. We must remember this blood it being given to people are every age and every stage of illness, this 12 month wait was applied in 2011 to ensure maximum security measures are being taken, before this the life time ban was in place.

    Remember sex workers, drug users, and people who have had sex in high risk areas are also not allowed to donate.

    My personal opinion is that we should judge sex activity rather than sexuality, although I do not feel this is an attack on sexuality at all.

    Also this was applied in all of the UK.

  47. Dyla Devlin

    I myself have often wondered why there is this restriction on homosexual male relationships, as I myself have been in a relationship with another guy for 6 months now, and 4 months ago i donated blood and on the form i lied and said no i haven’t had oral/anal sex with a male because i see no way that it is fair or logical to exclude a population based on there sexual preference. there’s no evidence that suggests that homosexuality can be transmitted through blood, I know I’m disease free as me and my partner both got checked, in fact there’s more evidence that shows Alzheimer’s is transmitted through blood.