Northern Ireland’s permanent ban on gay and bisexual men has finally been lifted.
In England, Scotland and Wales, men who have sex with men (MSM) can give blood if they abstain from sex for 12 months – but successive Northern Irish governments refused to adopt the same rules.
Since 2011 until this year, successive health ministers from the anti-LGBT Democratic Unionist Party had insisted on maintaining rules implemented during the AIDS crisis which include a permanent blood ban for MSM.
Former DUP minister Edwin Poots fought a costly legal battle to keep the ban despite the Health department admitting to having “no evidence” whatsoever for it. His replacement Jim Wells, who described LGBT pride as ‘repugnant’ and claimed gay parents abuse children, unsurprisingly also failed to make progress.
However, progress was finally made this year, when the health brief was handed to Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin – who immediately moved to bring Northern Ireland’s blood donation rules in line with the rest of the UK.
Under the rules, which come into force today, it will be possible for gay and bisexual men who have not had sex in the last 12 months to donate blood.
It comes amid a broader review of the blood donation policy in England and Wales, which may see the deferral system relaxed further or axed in favour of a policy based on screening for individual risk factors, as operates in some other European countries.
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 now. 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
“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.”