Forced to choose between a healthy sex life or helping to save a life: Irish gay activist speaks on World Blood Donor Day 

Ireland's GBT+ community are banned from helping to save a life if they have had sex within a year of when they plan on donating blood.

Forced to choose between a healthy sex life or helping to save a life: Irish gay activist speaks on World Blood Donor Day 

Imagine you could save a life. Imagine you could do it just by filling in a form, waiting in a queue, then lying on a bed for 15 minutes. And afterwards, you can leave, without having lost or given up anything, except maybe an hour of your day.

Now imagine someone told you that your friends, your family, your work colleagues could do this but you could not. And they told you the only reason you could not save or help improve someone’s quality of life was that you had sex with someone, whether they are your boyfriend, husband or any other man in the previous twelve months. That’s how it feels to be a gay blood donor in Ireland today.

I started donating blood at eighteen. In fact, in the run-up to my eighteenth birthday, my top priorities were: register to vote and donate blood. I had never had a drink and I had no interest in alcohol. All I wanted on the eve of my eighteenth birthday was to engage in my civic duties for the rest of my life.

My first donation took an extremely unusual four hours to complete, mainly because of the queues that particular night. The following day I walked into school feeling prouder than I had ever felt. That’s where my passion for blood donation began.

Even now, eleven donations and nine years on, I’m still utterly fascinated with the process of blood donation. The feeling is indescribable when I think about the fact that I could set aside an hour or two once every three or four months, lie on a bed, have a friendly conversation and then leave, knowing that my actions would save or help improve another person’s life.

When I first started donating blood, I didn’t know if I would ever come out. I had just about accepted myself that I was gay. As time rolled on, I grew into my sexuality, but I was always cautious about letting my heterosexual coverslip when donating blood.

To me, blood donation is a civic duty, but more than that it is a miracle, an extraordinary act by tens of thousands of people in this country every year and each donation can have an immeasurably positive impact on not only the person who receives that blood but their family, friends and everyone around them.

When I first started donating blood, I didn’t know if I would ever come out. I had just about accepted myself that I was gay. As time rolled on, I grew into my sexuality, but I was always cautious about letting my heterosexual coverslip when donating blood.

On my way to one donation in the first year of college, while I was still closeted, I passed some students with a petition calling on the blood service to end its lifetime ban on donations from any man who had ever had sex with another man. I put my head down and tried to ignore it. Not just the petition, but the issue itself. As I was preparing to donate, a member of the clinic staff made a negative comment about the students with the petition. I felt embarrassed and just ignored the comment.

One boyfriend understood my dedication to blood donation and assured me he had no issue with my frequent sex bans. But he wasn’t okay with it.

A year or two later, at another clinic, I wore a t-shirt I bought for my local Pride celebrations. It was black, with a pink sheep on the front, with a caption that read “I’m the pink sheep of the family”. A member of the clinic staff joked with me about it. I wondered if she understood the message behind it. Maybe she did and she just didn’t care. I was there to do my civic duty, just as she was, and besides, I had broken no rules by donating.

As time moved on and relationships came and went, I continued to prioritise my blood donation, because for me, at the time, it was more important than any relationship I could ever have. But the strain began to show. One boyfriend understood my dedication to blood donation and assured me he had no issue with my frequent sex bans. But he wasn’t okay with it. The ban I imposed on our relationship was always going to cause an underlying strain. It was a sacrifice I just about tolerated, but it was a sacrifice he couldn’t stand by.

The truth for us gay and bisexual blood donors is that it’s painful and often feels incredibly, and entirely unnecessarily, cruel to demand that we choose between a healthy sex life with a loved one, or helping to either save or improve someone’s life. It takes a significant emotional toll. It feels like a constant tearing within, where you are always forced to choose between these two significant parts of human existence. And it hurts.

I am a gay blood donor. Donating blood is just too important to me to stand back and say “Well if they don’t want my blood, why should I bother?”.

Despite being delighted to see anyone donate blood, in truth, it does hurt every time I see a post on social media about donating blood. It hurts every time I hear an ad on the radio about donating blood. It hurts every time I hear the blood service’s marketing campaign, “everyone counts”, because I know through the pain I feel that that message does not match the reality of the policies imposed.

And ultimately, it tears me up inside every time I remember I’m due to donate again, if not for the twelve-month automatic ban on all men who have had sex with men.

Even though it has now been five and a half months since my last blood donation and each blood donation has become far more infrequent than it should be or was when I first began donating, I still call myself a blood donor.

I am a gay blood donor. Donating blood is just too important to me to stand back and say “Well if they don’t want my blood, why should I bother?”.

I bother because it matters too much to not try. At the end of the day, blood is an extraordinary gift, given to a stranger to help improve or save their life. And that, for me, is worth fighting for. 3,000 blood donations are needed in Ireland every week. Every. One. Counts.

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

Support GCN

For 30 years GCN has been a vital, free-of-charge information service for Ireland’s LGBT+ community. We want to go on providing this community hub in print and online, helping countless individuals across the country, but the revenue from advertising across the media is falling.

GCN needs your support. If you value having an independent LGBT+ media in Ireland, you can help from only €1.99 per month. Support Ireland’s free, independent LGBT+ media.

0 comments. Please sign in to comment.