Target: Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots
Goal: Lift the lifetime ban on blood donation from gay men.
Last year, England, Wales, and Scotland changed the blood donation regulations for gay men from a lifetime ban to a one-year deferral period, but Northern Ireland did not follow suit. The deferral period means that gay men who have not had anal or oral sex in one year may donate blood. The goal is to prevent the spread of HIV (which has a 1 month window between transmission and accurate testing) and Hepatitis B (which has a 1 year window between transmission and accurate testing), since these STDs tend to appear disproportionately in gay men.
While this is not a perfect policy, as straight people engage in high-risk sexual behavior too, it is much less discriminatory than the previous policy—a lifelong ban, implemented decades ago during the AIDS crisis. The UK government is confident that the blood supply will not be endangered because blood donations are thoroughly screened beforehand to ensure a safe transfusion. That, coupled with a one-year deferral period, is certainly keeping on the safe side. Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots, however, upholds the homophobic lifetime ban in spite of this information.
In an effort to distance himself from the inescapably homophobic implications of this policy, he said of the issue, ‘I think that people who engage in high risk sexual behavior in general should be excluded from giving blood… And so someone who has sex with somebody in Africa or sex with prostitutes, I am very reluctant about those people being able to give blood.’ The discrimination is palpable.
Of course it is of paramount importance to ensure safety in virtually all medical procedures, but the ban on gay donors actually harms more patients than a one-year deferral period ever would, especially given the numerous safety precautions involved in testing donated blood. Sue Ramsey, chairwoman of the Northern Ireland Assembly Health Committee, points out, ‘We are crying out for blood donation… we have had to bring in blood from England, Scotland and Wales because we need it… [It] will be screened, so we should be going down this line of [the Health Minister’s] own prejudice coming into play.’
The National Union of Students and the Union of Students in Ireland (NUS-USI) is currently pressuring Health Minister Poots to lift the ban during their annual conference. Sign the petition below to contribute your voice to their efforts. Tell Northern Ireland that homophobia is unacceptable, and policies similar to those of the rest of the UK should be implemented there as well.
Dear Health Minister Edwin Poots,
The fact that Northern Ireland maintains a lifetime ban on gay blood donors reflects poorly on your country. Like it or not, this policy is blatantly homophobic. It assumes a deep fear of a perceived, unrealistic danger on the basis of sexual orientation. All donated blood is screened thoroughly before being used for a transfusion—that, coupled with a one-year deferral period for same-sex sexual contact, as is done in the rest of the UK, virtually ensures transfusion recipients’ safety.
Ironically, the lifetime ban on gay blood donors actually harms many more people than lifting it would, because when there is a blood shortage, patients who need transfusions often die. As Sue Ramsey, chairwoman of the Northern Ireland Assembly Health Committee, says, ‘We are crying out for blood donation… we have had to bring in blood from England, Scotland and Wales because we need it.’
Please put the health of Northern Irish citizens before homophobic prejudices, and do away with the lifetime ban on gay blood donors.
[Your Name Here]