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The Rainbow Project, the largest support and advocacy organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender people, and their families, in Northern Ireland has welcomed the comments from members of the working group within SABTO, the standing advisory body on blood, tissues and organs, outlining the likelihood of further reducing the abstention from sex period for gay and bisexual men who want to donate blood.

As reported in the Independent, Dr. Moira Carter, of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, a member of the SABTO working group said: ‘The deferral period is going to shorted considerably and [by] more than I thought. It’s very frustrating for gay men who are monogamous, even in long-term relationships, who are married and have children, to not be able to give blood. What is not acceptable is to make the deferral period longer than the risk period and to do so would be discriminatory.’

Blood donation rules were changed for England, Scotland and Wales in 2011, allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood if that had refrained from sex with another man for one year. In 2016, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill brought Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK after successive Health Ministers including, Edwin Poots, Jim Wells and Simon Hamilton maintained the lifetime ban in Northern Ireland.

Speaking on this development, John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project said: ‘We are happy to see that SABTO is relying on the evidence which demonstrates that the ability to donate blood should be based on risk and not sexual orientation and on safety instead of stigma. The Rainbow Project will continue to campaign for a blood donation policy which reflects the risk-taking behaviours and potential donors and not their sexual orientation. For too long, this policy across the UK, but particularly in Northern Ireland has relied on stigmatising sex between men. As every health professional understands, two gay men in a monogamous relationship cannot magically create HIV between the two of them and yet this group of men are still marked out as a suspect class, meriting their exclusion.

‘We expect Northern Ireland to maintain pace on this policy with England, Scotland and Wales. It will be unacceptable for Northern Ireland to languish behind the other regions on this policy and we call on all parties across the UK, including Northern Ireland, to commit to following the scientific evidence and not allow prejudice to determine public policy.’

#TheRainbowProject #bloodban

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