What is the MSM Blood Ban?
The men who have sex with men (MSM) blood ban is the dispute over prohibitions on donations of blood or tissue for organ transplants from men who have sex with men (MSM), a classification of men who engage (or have engaged in the past) in sex with other men, regardless of whether they identify themselves as bisexual, gay or otherwise. Opposition to the prohibition is frequently addressed in terms of bisexual and gay men. Restrictions on donors are sometimes called “deferrals” since blood donors who are found ineligible may be found eligible at a later date. In Northern Ireland deferrals however are indefinite, meaning blood donors may not be accepted in the future.
Northern Ireland’s Department of Health does not have any medical evidence of its own to support a permanent ban on gay men donating blood. Other parts of the UK have a one-year deferral period for men who have had sex with men and want to donate, but Northern Ireland has an outright ban as does Ireland. A judge has ruled the health minister did not have the power to keep the ban. It has been reported that £40,000 had so far been spent on legal fees challenging the ruling. The current health minister, Jim Wells, is appealing the judgment.
NUS-USI believes that the ban must be removed immediately. In Northern Ireland there is a continual shortage of blood yet the government are saying no to gay and bi-sexual men. At the same time, Northern Ireland is taking blood from Scotland where they have removed the ban on gay and bi-sexual men giving blood. NUS-USI believes that this lifetime ban is discriminatory and perpetuates the myth that AIDS is a “gay disease”. Our campaign calls for government for donation not discrimination. We believe this will be an opportunity to have our voices heard and influence policy change. We hope you’ll play an active part in removing this deeply stigmatising policy and ensuring a policy that protects the blood supply in a fair and balanced way.
What NUS-USI are doing
NUS-USI LGBT Campaign has campaigned against the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood for the past number of years. We believe that donating blood is not a right, but it is a responsibility – one which healthy gay and bisexual men should be able to exercise without fear of prejudice or discrimination. The ban as it currently stands demeans their ability to participate in this altruistic act, and contributes to a damaging and prejudiced perception of gay and bisexual men which belongs in the past. Whilst we understand that there must be stringent donor selection criteria aimed at protecting both donors and recipients of blood transfusions, we believe that these should not be based on sexual orientation.
What students’ unions can do
We encourage LGBT societies and students’ unions to hold your own information pickets outside local blood donation centres or when the National Blood Service visits your campus (please be mindful that the purpose of the picket is to encourage more donations, not to intimidate current donors). If interested, please contact NUS-USI for downloadable posters or arrange for these to be sent to your students’ union. You can also organise an event at your university or college to highlight awareness of the discriminatory policy and to encourage people to sign a petition. Remember to invite local journalists to attend your event or write a press release and send it to your local newspaper to spur media interest and increase awareness.