Laws that dictate whether gay men and sex workers can donate blood in England and Scotland are to be further relaxed. The changes now mean that both groups will be able to donate blood three months after having sex, as opposed to the current lifelong ban for sex workers and the year-long wait for gay men.
The move was announced as part of a raft of equalities reforms by the government, which also include making it easier for people to legally change their gender. It has been welcomed by charities and groups campaigning for blood donation rules for gay men to be brought in line with those of heterosexual people, although many still want them to become truly equal.
“This government is committed to building an inclusive society that works for everyone, no matter what their gender or sexuality and today we’re taking the next step forward,” Education Secretary Justine Greening said in a in a statement. “We will build on the significant progress we have made over the past 50 years, tackling some of the historic prejudices that still persist in our laws and giving LGBT people a real say on the issues affecting them.”
It was during the height of the AIDS epidemic that gay men were banned for life from donating blood, due to the fear that they would pass the disease on to those who receive transfusions. It was not until 2011 that campaigners successfully managed to get the ban lifted, but only in part. Laws introduced in England and Scotland allowed gay men to donate blood, but only if they had been celibate for over 12 months. Gay men in Northern Ireland had to wait until 2016 for their laws to catch up with the rest of the UK.
This discrepancy between homosexual and heterosexual people has long been seen by many in the LGBT+ community as discrimination. For example, a heterosexual person who has had many sexual partners over a period of a year is free to donate blood, while a homosexual person in a monogamous relationship is currently only allowed to do so if they refrain from sex for a year.
This latest move, however, has been seen as a major step in the right direction. The change was driven in part by advances in medical tests to detect bloodborne diseases, including hepatitis B, C, and HIV. This also means that the lifelong ban on sex workers donating blood has been reduced to be in line with that of gay men.