Today marks a partial win in the fight for equality for our LGBT+ family. Following the Department of Health’s announcement back in June, Men who have sex with Men (MSM) and Women who have or had sex with Men who have sex with Men (WSMSM) can, from today, officially donate blood provided that they have abstained from sexual activity for one year.
This signifies an important step in a larger victory for our citizens and our society. The previous system of blood donation operated by way of a discriminatory lifetime ban which prevented MSM from donating. However, there was no scientific justification or rationale for this practice, bar LGBT+phobic notions that ‘gay’ blood was to be rejected. Not only did it fly in the face of equality and respect, but it was also fundamentally pointless and illogical due to the screening process which all donated blood undergoes to ensure its safety. Sexually transmitted infections can happen to anyone, and so singling out large groups of society based on their sexual orientation and practices was nothing less than blatant discrimination disguised as a feeble explanation. Moreover, the senselessness of it all was furthered by the fact that we import blood from Great Britain (where the ban is currently one-year) when stocks are running low.
After being subjected to legal challenges and a subsequent review, the Department for Health confirmed back in June that the lifetime ban would be reduced to a one-year deferral period.
While one year is still a scientifically unnecessary and impractical restriction on blood donation, the reduction from a lifetime ban underlines that lobbying and activism can achieve real and effective change. Queen’s Students’ Union, along with our LGBT+ Society, have a proud history of campaigning to remove this practice which isolated so many potential donors and only served to put our resources under added pressure.
In recent years, your Union has launched petitions amassing thousands of signatures including the Vice-Chancellor, Patrick Johnston. This then grew to become the ‘Can’t Donate? Nominate.’ Campaign, encouraging those who couldn’t donate to nominate a friend to donate blood on their behalf. Those who participated and supported the campaign penned personal messages, outlining the reasons why the ban should be lifted, onto ‘Can’t Donate? Nominate.’postcards which were then sent to Health Minister, Simon Hamilton MLA,
We recently welcomed the current Minister for Health, Michelle O’Neill MLA, to Queen’s Students’ Union to mark the official date that those previously affected could now donate. We congratulated her on getting the approval of the Executive in the Minister’s early weeks in office and reminded her about the SU’s efforts in lobbying on this issue. The current Vice President for Equality & Diversity, Stephen McCrystall, welcomed the Minister to the Union, alongside the previous Equality & Diversity Officer (Current VP Education) Oisín Hassan, and the Vice President for Equality & Citizenship in the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Síona Cahill. QUBSU stands in solidarity with our colleagues in the South who also call for the blood ban to be lifted there and we are hopeful that they will enjoy a similar victory in the not too distant future.
Today serves as a reminder of how it is always important that we celebrate victories when they arise – no matter how big or small. This is a victory, but it is a bittersweet one; we have to look at the bigger picture and work to secure something beyond a compromise. We must ensure that we do not grow complacent or let inequality pervade our society, particularly when there is no sound justification for doing so. The ‘Missing Type’ campaign by NIBTS highlights the decline in blood donors, and so we must strive to ensure that we maximise the eligible number of people who can donate, not place limits on it through arbitrary practices.
Students have made their voices heard on this issue in the past, and we are confident that they will continue to make their views known in the future. One year of celibacy is not a perfect solution, but it is a start, and provides us with a platform to secure the outcome that both equality and science calls for.
With that in mind, the ‘Can’t Donate. Nominate.’ campaign continues… and we hope as always we can call upon your support.