Over the last few days I have noticed whilst on Facebook and other social networking sites, that I am often urged to 'Give Blood, Not Excuses' by the Blood Transfusion Service. I am staunchly in favour of the organ donor scheme, and I proudly carry an Organ Donor Card. If anything were to happen to me, I have always said that I would want my organs or tissues used to help someone, or save someone's life. (My eyes wouldn't be much use for I am as blind as a bat!) I could donate my liver, heart, lungs, and any other organ from beyond the grave. However I cannot, under the current law in Northern Ireland, donate any of my blood.
Why? Because I'm a gay man.
I have committed no crime, I have not contracted any virulent or bacterial illnesses that would affect my blood (such as Hep C or HIV/AIDS) but because I am openly gay, I am unable to donate blood. I want to, I feel that anybody who can donate blood should donate blood. Northern Ireland is suffering a severe shortage of blood to be used for transfusions and operations, yet the NI Health Minister, the DUP's Edwin Poots MLA, refused to lift the blanket ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood in September 2011.
Does this make sense to anyone?
I have volunteered for some time with the HIV Support Centre in Belfast, and I know first hand the impact of HIV/AIDS on Northern Ireland. We are 'lucky' to have a relatively low rate of HIV/AIDS prevalence for the size of our population. 2 people are diagnosed every week with the disease, which is still 2 people too much.
But the stigma attached to HIV and the LGBT community is one that the Health Minister, despite what the scientific and medical communities are saying, fails to overcome and look past. For Mr. Poots removing the blanket ban would mean opening the floodgates for homosexuals (10% of the population according to a 2008 Rainbow Project report) to infect and destroy the good natured heterosexual Christian population of Northern Ireland. It comes down to sheer bigotry and malice on the part of the Minister, an irrational phobia of the LGBT community and a denial of their right to donate blood. It's as simple as that.
We can donate organs, we can even accept blood donations from England & Wales, where the blanket ban on MSM has been removed, so essentially we can accept 'gay blood' as long as it isn't from our own LGBT population. It's moronic.
I hate to think what will need to happen before the Minister reconsiders his decision, but I fear that it will be something tragic. The law needs to change and it needs to change now, before lives are lost.