Gay men can now donate blood in the UK. Good news, but there's a catch!

Are we going to accept this distinction between good gays and bad gays?

Gay men can now donate blood in the UK. Good news, but there's a catch!

The rules around blood donation in the UK have been an irritation for gay men for many years. Not the biggest issue, but an annoyingly regular reminder that gay men weren’t allowed to donate blood because we were defined as “high risk”, that our sexuality made us less valued.

It technically wasn’t discrimination, we were allowed to donate if we abstained from sex for three months. Because it’s not our sexuality but the sex we have that makes us untouchable, right?

But now, the UK government has announced that it’s changing the rules – gay men will now be able to donate blood. Hooray!

Here’s the new rules:

  • All blood donors who have had one sexual partner and who have been with their sexual partner for more than three months, will now be eligible to donate regardless of their gender, the gender of their partner, or the type of sex they have.
  • If donors have had more than one sexual partner or a new partner in the last three months, they can donate as long as they have not had anal sex.

This is described as an individualised risk-based approach.

Why no anal sex? Because anal sex is seen as a vortex of STIs. It’s high-risk, right?

There’s more. According to reporting by the Guardian, gay men seeking to donate blood will have to fill out a health check questionnaire. The questionnaire will require you to disclose:

  • Have you been exposed to an STI?
  • Are you taking PrEP or PEP?
  • Do you take part in chemsex?

If you’re ticking the box on any of those, then you’ll be classified as high-risk and you won’t be allowed to donate blood.

This feels like progress, right? It’s not that long ago that there was a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood. This was lifted in 2011 – gay men could donate if they abstained from sex for 12 months. The abstinence period was reduced to three months in 2017. Now, no abstinence is required – as long as you’re not a high-risk gay.

Good Gays versus Bad Gays

It’s alarming to see the usage of PrEP being listed as an indicator of high-risk behaviour. PrEP has been clinically proven to be highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV.

It’s also alarming to see the term chemsex being used in this context. Chemsex is a broad term that describes gay men having sex while using specific drugs that reduce inhibitions and increase libido. It doesn’t feel right that it’s entering the public discourse about who should or should not be donating blood. It doesn’t feel right that it’s being used as an indicator for risk of HIV transmission.

Where this leaves us is that we now have an official health policy definition of what a Good Gay looks like and what a Bad Gay looks like.

Good gays are in monogamous relationships, leading ‘normal’ lives, being good people, making a contribution to society. Bad gays filthy perverts, living high-risk lives to satisfy their lust-fuelled urges.

It’s a binary view of gay men that doesn’t have any connection to the reality of our lives.

Should we be celebrating the new rules on blood donation?

It’s a step forward. Blood donation rules is not the biggest issue for gay men and LGBTQ people in the UK, but this is a step forward.

We can acknowledge that progress has been made without accepting the one-dimensional understanding of what it means to be a gay man.

We can acknowledge that progress has been made without accepting the false paradigm of Good Gays versus Bad Gays.