opinion

Opinion: 'Thanks to new rules my sexuality is no longer a barrier to giving blood - I’ve just donated my first pint'

Jacob Young, the Conservative MP for Redcar, on the importance of donating blood after last month's rule changes.

2021-07-01

Pictures: Provided

“Do something amazing. Give blood.”

It is a slogan we have all grown up with and last week I celebrated a milestone by donating my first pint.

Blood donation can sometimes be overlooked, but it has always been a powerful way for people to literally save lives. In fact, one donation could save up to three lives.

The leukaemia patient in need of platelets, the emergency in A&E, the research into lifesaving treatments – they use donations, hundreds of thousands of them, and the truth is we need even more new donors to simply maintain the current supply.

So why did I not donate sooner?

I have wanted to donate for years, particularly during the pandemic, but despite being in a long-term relationship the previous rules prevented me from doing so because my partner was a man. This all changed this month when the Government enacted some landmark changes to blood donation rules.

Now any individual with a long-term partner, regardless of gender or sexuality, will be eligible to donate. Going forward criteria like your health and behaviours will determine your eligibility to give blood, not who you fancy.

These new rules make the UK one of the first countries in the world to adopt an individualised risk-based approach to donor screening and I congratulate the campaigners who lobbied for this change. It ensures the UK remains a world leader in championing a fair and robust system but importantly it also means that many more people could benefit from the life-saving supply of blood.

But it is not just fairness. I believe the new rules reinforce the safety we expect at the heart of our blood donation system too by focusing on risk, not sexuality. Of course, it was not so long ago that all gay and bisexual men lived under a lifetime ban on all blood donations. 

As a young gay man reading those rules for the first time I was horrified. What was it about me that made me so dangerous?! For me and millions like me, those rules perpetuated a dangerous stigma which suggested that LGBT+ people are inherently unhealthy and could put others at risk.

The outright ban was in place for decades until it was replaced with a blanket 12-month deferral period from sexual activity, which was then reduced to three months in 2017.

The 2017 changes, when announced, were still amongst the most advanced in the world despite excluding a majority of gay and bisexual men who wanted to donate blood, including many in relationships like myself, proving that this is a global issue. So as one of the world’s largest economies, it matters that the UK is seen to be taking leadership and we should not be shy in shouting about it if we want others to follow.

These new rules represent huge progress. There will be many who remember the fear, confusion, and prejudice that grew from the onset of the Aids pandemic, which began 40 years ago last month. So much of that stigma remains with us today and there is more work to be done to ensure it is consigned to history.

When I went to donate blood last week, I was finally asked the same questions as everyone else.

The moment itself was more poignant than I had expected it to be. For years I had been forbidden from sitting in that chair. The chair I was now sat in. It proves that the path towards the fair treatment of LGBT+ people runs through the practical barriers LGBT+ people still face every day.

In schools, workplaces, and homes across the country LGBT+ people continue to conceal themselves for fear of being treated differently by peers, colleagues and loved ones. Until this ends, our work must continue.

With so many events being postponed or cancelled COVID has sadly meant that we have celebrated Pride Month differently this year, but blood donation centres are still running and need donations more than ever.

So as we send-off Pride Month 2021 by raising a pint, consider donating one too.

Jacob Young is the Conservative MP for Redcar.