Following the recent announcement made by the UK’s National Health Scheme that will allow men who have sex with other men to donate blood more easily, many in Australia are now calling for our own policies around blood donation to “get with the times”.

While Australia’s easing of the rules on blood donation made headlines as recently as October this year, there are still issues of concern. The biggest difference between Australian and UK rules is that unlike Australia, the UK will now assess blood donors on an individual basis. In Australia, potential donors are still subjected to blanket bans simply due to their sexuality, as Australian Greens Senator Janet Rice explained in an interview with Star Observer.

Essentially the current situation is unwarranted discrimination against men who have sex with men. It’s very clear that the science shows that the risks from gay men donating blood is no higher than the risk of other people donating blood. The UK decision shows very clearly in a very similar jurisdiction that the way we should be going about it is by assessing the individual risks of people rather than making presumptions on their sexuality.”

But as Senator Rice explained, the issues are far deeper than just blood donations.

The fact that it is an official measure that is continuing the stigma against gay men, and basically saying they are a risk to society, that’s pretty serious and unwarranted and something we really need to move on from.

Across all sections of society, we are on a journey of removing discrimination against people based on their sexuality or gender identity and this is a really important area that government should act on. To remove that discrimination and stigma would mean same sex attracted people can be on the same footing as other people in society. Whereas when you have unwarranted discrimination against them, it’s just adding to that stigma and oppression.”

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 Yesterday, Senator Rice sent a letter about Australia’s current regulations governing blood donations of men who have sex with men, to Adjunct Professor John Skerritt of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt and all State and Territory health ministers.

I ask that you change Australia’s approach, to adopt a position that matches international standards. This would send a clear signal to Australia’s LGBTIQ+ communities, recognising and valuing the contribution they make, including through blood donations. It would provide a positive message to all men who have sex with men in the community if their donations are evaluated on the basis of the safety of their sexual activity rather than the gender of their sexual partner,The letter read.

Senator Rice is not alone, with a number of other prominent leaders and organisations joining the growing chorus for change. Including national LGBTQI advocacy group, just.equal who similarly wrote to Australia’s health ministers urging them to scrap the blanket gay blood ban.

“The ban on gay donors, and some bi and trans donors, stigmatises us as a threat to public health and reduces the amount of safe blood available for those in need,” just.equal spokesperson, Rodney Croome said in a statement. “It also fosters the false impression that all heterosexual people are safe to donate even when their sexual activity is not safe – it’s no coincidence Australia’s last case of HIV transmission through transfusion was traced back to a heterosexual woman who was not aware she was at risk.”

“We have written to all Federal, State and Territory health ministers asking them to support blood equality and individual risk assessment, or at least ask the nation’s blood authorities to seriously consider the UK model.”

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 Like Senator Rice, Croome expressed disappointment that not one Australian Federal, State or Territory health minister raised individual risk assessment as an option when they were asked earlier this year to ratify the proposed reduction in the current celibacy period for gay, bi and trans donors from twelve months to three.

“After the announcement in April this year that Australia’s blood authorities wanted to amend the gay blood ban, just.equal wrote to all Federal, State and Territory health ministers asking them to support blood equality, adopt individual risk assessment, and urge Australia’s blood authorities to at least consider the option, but their subsequent correspondence with us shows that not one did.”

Concluding, Croome added, “we urge Federal, State and Territory leaders to seize the opportunity offered by blood equality in the UK and bring Australia’s irrational, outdated and stigmatising gay, bi and trans blood ban to an end.”

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