Momentous 'first' gay donation in Northern Ireland since easing of blood restrictions

Northern Ireland has relaxed its laws surrounding how long gay, bisexual and men who have had sex with men have to wait before they are allowed to donate blood.

Northern Ireland blood
Image: Hugh Russell

A west Belfast man is to become the first person to donate blood in Northern Ireland under the region’s new relaxed restrictions on donations from gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men (GBMSM).

Previously, GBMSM had to go 12 months without having oral or anal sex in order to be eligible for donation. However, Northern Ireland’s minister of health Robert Swann announced back in April that this law was to be brought down to 3 months starting from June 1.

Under these new rules, Stevie Maginn will finally be able to donate blood. Maginn told Irish News that this was something he has wanted to do for years, and that’s he already registered as a donor for spinal fluid and organs.

“I’m in a long-term monogamous relationship but we haven’t seen each other since lockdown as I’m isolating with my parents,” he said. “It meant whenever the announcement came I was able to give blood quite quickly. I rang up and asked if they were aware of the change and they said that they were and made me an appointment.”

According to the health minister, the decision to change the restrictions was based solely on the evidence regarding the safety of blood donated.

“Every blood donation is tested for HIV and a number of other organisms. Not even the most advanced tests are 100% reliable, so it is vitally important for every donor to comply with any deferral rules that apply to them,” Swann said.

For Maginn, this could be a step towards a further easing of laws. He believes the rules should be less focused on sexual orientation and more on sexual behaviour.

“I could have been donating blood for years to help the health service – but it is the risk of heterosexual [people] who are not engaging in safe sex and perhaps have multiple sexual partners,” he said.

“They are able to give blood, but I can’t, despite being in a long-term monogamous relationship. We need to move to a system like Italy where the system is completely based on sexual behaviour and who is deemed risky.”

In countries like Italy and Spain, donors are not asked questions based on the gender of their sexual partners. Instead, they centre more on a change in sexual partners. In Spain for example, people are unable to donate blood if they have partaken in unsafe sex with multiple partners over the last four months.

In Ireland, GBMSM must currently abstain from oral and anal sex for 12 months in order to be a donor. However, the government are currently in the process of reviewing this restriction.

© 2020 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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