A group of gay rights advocates is calling for the Red Cross Blood Service and Health Minister Tanya Plibersek to abolish the ban on gay men donating blood.

Currently men are prevented from donating blood if they’ve had sex with another man in the last 12 months.

“It’s time to let the Australian Government and Red Cross know just how many gay and bisexual Australians are being denied the opportunity to give their safe blood to save the lives of others,” the group’s petition states.

“We want to give blood to help save lives. However, because we are men in same-sex relationships the Red Cross requires we abstain from sex for a minimum of one year before being eligible to donate blood.

“The Red Cross’ assumption is that gay men are at higher risk of HIV than heterosexual men because we are more likely to have multiple partners and practice unsafe sex.”

Australian Red Cross Blood Service chief executive Jennifer Williams said the rules around who can and can’t donate blood exist to ensure the blood is as safe as it can be for the patients whose lives depend on it.

“The Red Cross does not make assumptions that gay men are at higher risk of HIV than heterosexual men,” Williams said.

“The rules are based on facts, and on the obligation of the Blood Service to reduce as much as possible, the risk of someone receiving blood which carries an undetected infection.

“We recognise that there is a lower risk group within the group of men who have sex with men, but our screening cannot accurately identify these so the group as a whole is excluded.”

The Kirby Institute reports that men with a history of male to male sex continue to make up the majority of people diagnosed with AIDS and HIV infection in Australia.

Earlier this year the Red Cross reviewed its blood donation guidelines and recommended the period for which men who have sex with men (MSM) must refrain from having sex before donating be reduced from 12 to six months.

At the time, LGBTI rights advocates said the new policy continued to exclude condom-using gay men in committed relationships, while donating heterosexuals would still be able to have as many sexual partners as they choose.

The petition can be found at www.change.org.

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