Gay Men Should Be Able To Give Blood, Says Victorian Liberal MP Matt Bach

Gay Men Should Be Able To Give Blood, Says Victorian Liberal MP Matt Bach
Image: Matt Bach MP, Member for North-Eastern Metropolitan Region in the Victorian Parliament.

By Matt Bach MP

Until recently I was barred from giving blood, and I was very happy about it. Like so many other Australians, I lived in England for a time between 1980 and 1996. 

Over these years there were various outbreaks of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or Mad Cow disease. Millions of cows were killed and 178 people died, very sadly.

For my entire life I’ve been banned from giving blood due to the very small risk that I too was infected. Only last year Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration allowed those of us who lived in Britain at this time to donate blood. Given my deep fear of needles, I was less than pleased.

Nonetheless, since then I’ve donated blood three times, at Lifeblood in Mount Waverley. I should go again soon, so should you. But if you’re a gay man, you can’t, notwithstanding our dangerously diminished stockpile resulting from Australia’s very low donor rate.

Gay Blood Bans Are Being Withdrawn

Gay and bisexual men who’ve had sex with other men in the last three months are banned from giving blood or plasma in Australia. The reason given by Australian Governments is that men who have sex with men are more at risk of various health conditions, notably HIV – even if they are taking preventative medications such as PrEP.

Is this true? Well, maybe. But even if it is, is such a blanket – and discriminatory – approach justified? 

The British don’t think so. They made a significant change in 2021 under Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Consequently, they now apply the same rules about recent sexual activity to men and women. In short, if you’ve had the same partner in that period, you’re fine to donate.  

The Canadians and the French also no longer discriminate against gay men. Their policies, and those of many other countries like the Netherlands and Israel, are ones that centre on individual risk, not undifferentiated group bias. Our policy should too. 

It’s not 1985, when AIDS precipitated both much legitimate fear and hysterical homophobia. Something else has also changed over the past 40-odd years: our medical technology. All donated blood in Australia is carefully and expertly tested. 

Australian scientists and systems are every bit as good – better I’d say – than British, Canadian or French. Hence, we can, and should, trust our processes.

Community Faces Discrimination

Now, I say “all donated blood” despite the fact that there’s not much. Relevant agencies are currently running ads to encourage those of us who are eligible to donate more. It’s estimated that a change in our rules to allow gay men to donate would increase Australia’s blood supply by about 25,000 litres every year.

Think of the good that could be done with that amount of blood. It would save tens of thousands of lives. First and foremost, I’m advocating for this change because of the massive health benefits to the broader community. 

Yet there is an important secondary reason: the huge negative impact of this ban, needless as I believe it is, on gay and bisexual men.

The effect of telling one group in society that they’re probably diseased, and therefore must be treated differently to everyone else, should not be understated. If it’s true, ok. But in this case, it’s not – at least according to the governments of numerous developed countries. 

Gay men are still the subject of much discrimination. Sure, they can now marry their partners. But they are regularly the target of hatred and violence. Official systems like adoption still successfully seek to exclude them, according to organisations like Gay Dads and Rainbow Families. 

Let’s Change The Rules

In this context, a safe and evidence-based rule change to our blood donor policies would also manifestly increase the well-being of a vulnerable out-group.  

In Australia, changes to rules about who can give blood are subject to multiple, complex approvals; from the TGA and State and Federal Governments, among others.   

On another level the issue is very simple: should we continue to discriminate against up to 12 per cent of Australians because of our own irrational fears?

Apparently, I might have Mad Cow. But the rules have changed, and I’m now allowed to give blood. Let’s change the rules for gay men, too. 

Matt Bach is Member for North-Eastern Metropolitan Region in the Victorian Parliament



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One response to “Gay Men Should Be Able To Give Blood, Says Victorian Liberal MP Matt Bach”

  1. I think this is an absolute truth: why do we discriminate about Gay Men not being able to donate blood?

    It’s the same for all humans: anyone of us could be carrying “something “ in our blood/bodies that we don’t know about!

    Surely ALL bloods should be tested before a transfusion and if any conditions are found then use that blood for Science/treatment of diseases.