The new leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, has today added his voice to calls to overturn the discriminatory blood donation rules applying to sexually active gay and bi men, people who have injected drugs or those who have had sex for payment.
Mr Farron, whose religious beliefs and mixed voting record on LGBTI rights have provided some controversy in recent days, made the appeal in an article for The Huffington Post coinciding with the launch of the “Freedom to Donate” campaign.
He argued that the current rules were “scientifically and socially outdated, deeply and unjustly stigmatising, and urgently need to change”, before pointing to his party’s record of campaigning to end the ban.
Farron pointed out that a change in the law, introduced in 2011, to allow men in same-sex relationships to donate blood only if they had been celibate for 12 months was woefully insufficient. “By any standards [celibacy] seems like a pretty high price to pay for the privilege of selflessly offering a gift that literally saves lives…and it has created a situation where blood is accepted from lots of other groups who, on the evidence, are at higher risk of contracting HIV and other blood-borne infections than gay men. So while gay men practicing safe sex are banned from donating, straight men and women who may well engage in far riskier practices are not.”
The Lib Dem leader called for “evidence-based policy” as the surest way of keeping blood donation safe. The blood ban is not scientifically literate, he claimed: “it patently doesn’t make sense – and it is frankly inexcusable that we have a prurient statutory policy that discriminates against and stigmatises gay and bisexual men, transgender people, and those who sleep with them.
“We cannot afford to turn people away on the basis of a confused and judgemental policy that doesn’t fit our needs or sensibilities. The current rules are based on assumptions of fixed, binary sex and gender identities that make no sense now, if they ever did, and, as well as being offensive – not just to those affected, but actually, to all of us – it’s frankly stupid to lock out millions of people who are willing and able to help.”
Mr Farron’s contribution, and the launch of Freedom to Donate, has been welcomed by many LGBTI and HIV charities and lobbying groups – as well as many activists.
Gay Christian blogger Kristian Carter added to Mr Farron’s criticism of the rationale behind the blood ban. “The legislation was put in place at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s when there was a moral panic over infected blood. We now know much more about HIV/AIDS, and screening methods have become much more advanced.
“HIV never is, never was, and never will be a ‘gay plague,’ but the current legislation certainly gives that impression. Heterosexuals are perfectly capable of contracting HIV as well – which is why their blood is screened for HIV when they donate. The blood ban is an insult to gay people, doesn’t make a shred of medical sense, and it’s time to consign it to the history books.”
Mathew Hulbert, a Lib Dem activist and LGBTI rights campaigner, told KaleidoScot: ”I’m very pleased Tim and the Lib Dems are taking a lead on this vital issue. It makes no sense at all, especially at a time when the number of blood donors is substantially down on what is needed, to turn away willing donors.
“Tim said he’d raise this issue early on in his leadership and he’s doing exactly that. Tim is fully supportive of LGBT+ equality and this is one very clear example of that.”