Story at a glance
- Gay or bisexual men in France will be allowed to freely donate blood beginning in March for the first time in nearly 40 years.
- Blood donation starting March 16 will be accessible to all parties, regardless of sexual orientation, though a pre-screening questionnaire will still address any risky behaviors.
- LGBTQ+ activists have called on U.S. policymakers to adopt a similar policy.
Gay and bisexual French men beginning in March will no longer be restricted from donating blood, the French government said this week.
“We are ending an inequality that was no longer justified,” France’s Health Minister, Olivier Véra, announced Tuesday on Twitter.
Blood donation starting March 16 will be accessible to all parties, regardless of sexual orientation, though a pre-screening questionnaire will still address any risky behaviors.
A ban on gay or bisexual men giving blood in France was originally implemented in 1983 at the start of the AIDS crisis, when little was known about the spread of the disease. Although that ban was technically lifted in 2016, donors were still required to adhere to a year of sexual abstinence before being allowed to donate.
That period was reduced to four months in 2019.
The L’Interassociative lesbienne, gaie, bi et trans, one of France’s leading LGBTQ+ organizations, called the ban’s removal a “decision which has been awaited for many years.”
“Imposing a period of four months of abstinence to homosexual people wishing to donate blood was totally absurd and has always been experienced as a form of discrimination, all the more so when we know that donations are running out,” a spokesperson for the group, Matthieu Gatipon-Bachette, told the French newspaper Le Parisien.
“Obviously there must be a health safety framework to be respected, but this must not be based on the sexual orientation of the donor,” he said.
LGBTQ+ rights activists in the U.S. have been calling on policymakers to roll back the country’s own restrictions on blood donation for years.
The Food and Drug Administration in 2015 moved from a lifetime ban set in 1983 to a deferral of one year for any man who has had sex with another man during the past 12 months. Some female donors were also subject to the same deferral period, depending on whether their male sexual partners also had male sexual partners.
In 2020, that deferral period was reduced to just three months to address the “urgent need” for blood during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the agency’s current policy still isn’t fair, according to the Human Rights Campaign, because “it does not treat persons with the same risks in a similar way.”
“It also believes that donors are deferred based on their membership in a group — in this case, all men who have sex with men — rather than engagement in risky behavior, such as unprotected sex,” according to a statement on the group’s website. “A man who has had protected oral sex with another man once in the 3 months currently barred from donating blood. Yet a woman who has had unprotected sex with multiple partners over the same time frame with no knowledge of their personal histories remains in the donor pool.”
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