Last semester we launched our campaign ‘Can’t Donate. Nominate’ to end the lifetime blood ban for men who have sex with men (MSM). The ban is discriminatory on the grounds of sexuality, and is founded on an outdated hatred of men having sex with men as an abnormal behaviour, or as inherently dangerous to the health of the general population. These notions, rooted in hatred and rejection of LGBT+ identities and humanity, don’t belong in a modern society. The ban also discriminates against women who have or have had sex with MSM (abbreviated to WSMSM).
We believe that public policy should be based on equality and respect, but also that it should be in the public interest. Currently all blood donations are screened, because regardless of sexuality, anyone could contract a sexually transmitted disease. If screening is safe, (and it is safe!) then there is no public interest argument for banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood. It simply acts to brand them as ‘dirty’.
At the minute Northern Ireland import blood from GB were the lifetime ban has been lifted…so if we’re happy to import so-called ‘gay blood’ from elsewhere there is no argument against why the ban cannot be lifted here too. It’s clear that homophobia permeates our public policy, and acts against the greater good of ensuring sufficient blood stocks and a healthy population.
Since the last Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) blood drive on campus in October I’ve been posting your ‘Can’t Donate. Nominate’ postcards weekly to the Health Minister, Simon Hamilton, and it’s starting to have an impact. In December the Minister confirmed that a review of the ban would take place. While this is a positive step, the Department continues to fight a court ruling that the ban is inherently bigoted and unnecessary.
In GB the MSM blood donation ban is two-years, rather than a lifetime one. This is based on the flawed notion that MSM and WSMSM must be celibate for two years before they are able to donate. This policy is perhaps even more flawed than our own lifetime ban, and we would not advocate for the two-year rule. Simply, everyone regardless of sexuality should be free to donate blood.
Tomorrow, 26April, NIBTS are in the Union, and we’re asking you to go along to The Space and donate blood. But not only that, we’re asking you to donate blood on behalf of those who are banned from doing so by this homophobic and bi-phobic law.
The strength of the student voice and the impact it can have on the public discourse and on Government decision making is evidenced by the promise of a review. We need to ensure that review goes ahead and that it results in a full lifting of the blood ban, not just a compromise of two-year’s celibacy.
For those of you who are discriminated against by the MSM Blood Ban, we’re asking you to nominate a friend to donate on your behalf. Last semester NIBTS had over 300 students try to donate, with 200 successfully donating their blood. That goes to show just how important students are in this fight.
The student movement is a collective one, and has already done a lot to influence the change we want to see on this issue, so tomorrow if you ‘Can’t Donate. Nominate!’