It took only a few years for Malta to move up in the rankings on LGBTIQ rights and clinch the top spot in the ILGA-Europe Rainbow map classification. A country that moved from zero to hero and proudly flies the rainbow flag on prominent buildings to mark its achievements and openness to diversity on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Yet, although great strides have been made, homophobia, transphobia and biphobia still exist and need to be fought every day. Changing laws, albeit not a simple task, is far easier than changing people’s thoughts.
Tomorrow is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia and I wanted to shed light on an issue I have at heart – the homophobic and biphobic stance on blood donation, not only in Malta but in many countries across the globe.
Malta allows gay and bi men to donate blood only if they abstain from sexual intercourse with other men for a whole year before the day of donation. This also applies to gay and bi men in a long-term monogamous relationship – a reality that heterosexual men and women do not face. For heterosexuals, saying that they are monogamous is sufficient; for homosexual men, the State assumes that all are promiscuous.
For heterosexuals, saying that they are monogamous is sufficient; for homosexual men, the State assumes that all are promiscuous.
In a 2014 opinion, the Court of Justice of the European Union stated that a sexual relationship between two men does not in itself constitute conduct that justifies permanent exclusion from giving blood. This means that it is not the person’s sexual orientation that should define eligibility to blood donation, but the person’s sexual behaviour.
A number of countries, including Spain and Italy do not have any deferral policies in place. Instead, they carry out individual sexual risk evaluations and testing. A bigger number of countries have reduced deferral periods to three months, given the advances in technology and the ability to test all blood before any use by the health sector.
Currently, the American FDA is currently considering lifting all the restrictions in place on gay and bi men from donating blood, while the United Kingdom has announced that it will remove the three-month deferral period it has in place to all gay and bi men in a monogamous relationship on June 14.
Up until 9 years ago, I was a regular blood donor. I never considered this as a right but rather a noble act of altruism. The day I accepted myself as a gay man, I realised that I had to stop what I had been doing all my adult life because society suddenly started treating me differently to how it used to treat me a few months earlier. The only difference in my life was that rather than living a lie and remain in a monogamous relationship with a woman, I accepted myself and started a monogamous relationship with a man.
The reasons that have always been given to ban gay men from blood donation have now been superseded by advances in science and technology. I appeal, hope and expect that the Government moves away from a judgemental attitude on this issue and instead start making use of today’s technology to make sure that all blood donated is safe, irrespective of the donor’s sexual orientation. At the same time, it must invest heavily in sexual education not only in our schools but across our community.