Today’s Monday Motivation is a little bit different to usual. Instead of discussing something to help you, I aim to encourage you to stand up and take action on something that could help others, including saving lives. I’m talking about blood donation.
When I was 18 I went to my local British Legion to donate blood for the first time. As far back as I can remember my mother was a regular blood donor, and has been for several decades. So I was oddly over excited as I had wanted to give blood for a long time as I have always believed it to be something everyone should do; it’s one of the best and easiest ways to help others.
I remember the day really well, turning up with my school friends Claire and Emma, getting in line and filling out our forms about our lives… forms, I didn’t realise you had to fill out forms!
There in front of me was the section on sexual activity; by now I had started to discover my sexuality and at that point had slept with a couple of guys already. Feeling brave, and thinking it would be OK as my unknowing school friends wouldn’t see the form, I filled it in, handed it over and waited to be called.
The girls were called first and then myself. A female nurse called me into the room and I had a mixture of nerves and excitement in me. “Neil, I’ve been looking through your form and I see you have sexual relationships with other men and have done within the last 12 months. I’m sorry, but that means you can’t give blood.” She said it so icy cold and matter-of-fact. My heart sank and my lips trembled. I asked her why and was given the now well-known script of gay sex being deemed ‘high-risk behavior’ as there may be diseases unknown to the medical profession. I was devastated. I wasn’t going to be allowed to donate, my blood was considered ‘dangerous’. I cried in front of her as I realised I was now going to have to come up with a reason for my friends as to why I couldn’t give blood as well as my mum, who knew I was there. It was the first time I had felt bad about being gay, that it was wrong and something was wrong with me.
I made my excuses to friends and family but it stuck with me for a long time. I read up on the situation to further understand the situation; the devastation of the AIDS crisis in the 80s has left a hefty weight on the gay community. The hangover from it being the medical profession still deeming it too risky; a concept so draconian in the current day to the point of stupidity. I knew plenty of girls who didn’t use protection; they were on the pill so they couldn’t get pregnant, that’s all they cared about. Yet that wasn’t deemed high risk? It’s utterly baffling.
I’m lucky that thanks to my incredible friends and family, coming out for me was about as painless an experience as it could be. I am very aware of how fortunate I am. Others aren’t so lucky. It meant that I have never again, even for a second, not been totally proud to be gay and part of an incredible journey and community. Now it’s time for things to change. The old excuse don’t hold up anymore. With the advances in medical science for various sexually transmitted infections, including five minute HIV tests, paired with the amount of testing all blood goes through when screened, it’s not a valid excuse.
Over six thousand blood donations are needed daily to saves lives and there is always a shortage, with a 40% drop in those giving blood over the last 10 years. There are countless healthy gay men who long to help, including men like myself who also happens to be O- and therefore of a blood type where I can help double the people. It’s for these reasons that I stand firmly behind the Freedom to Donate campaign. The Freedom to Donate campaign is calling for a fresh review is undertaken by The Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) into the deferral criteria for blood donation, in order for the government to make an informed decision on it and, in the long run, for the 12-month deferral be lifted.
We’ve made some incredible steps within the LGBT community , our rights and as a nation in harmony as a whole. This must be our next fight, one that will not only benefit the LGBT community but also the the entire country. We are leaders, let’s lead the world on this.
Gay, straight or undefined, what would you do if a loved one was desperate need for blood but couldn’t get it because of a shortage? As readers of this blog, followers on social and friends and family at home, I ask you to support this campaign, a fight that means something deeper to me than simply power to the people.
Find out more at FreedomtoDonate.co.uk
Sign the petition here
Follow on Twitter here