France ends ban on gay, bisexual men donating blood, with a catch

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Gay and bisexual men in France are now allowed to donate blood for the first time after the lifting of a 33-year ban, that dates back to shortly after the discovery of HIV/AIDS. Monday’s change made good on an announcement in November, during which the country’s health minister called it the end “of a taboo and discrimination.”

While this is a significant policy change and marks progress for LGBT rights in France, men who have sex with men (MSM) are still required to have abstained from sexual contact with other men for at least one year before they are eligible to donate blood. MSM who are celibate for at least four months can donate plasma, but not blood.

The ban against lesbian blood donation in the country ended in 2002.

Lifting the ban was a campaign promise made by President François Hollande during the 2012 election. It comes just three years after the government pushed through legislation legalizing same-sex marriage.

“This is a good sign, which shows that men who have sex with other men are becoming less stigmatized…It’s helping them move towards a situation that is more equal,” Sophie Aujean, senior policy officer at the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), told FRANCE 24.

However, she also called the celibacy requirement unfair, as no such restriction applies to heterosexual individuals.

“A year is a very long time, and will probably mean that a lot of men who have sex with other men will opt out of donating blood because of it,” Aujean said. “Four months would be more reasonable.”

“There is no way to say that a married and faithful homosexual couple is more at risk than a married and faithful heterosexual couple,” said Virginie Combe, vice-president of the French rights group SOS Homophobia, who called the lifting of the ban a “first step.”

The policy changes comes after a European court ruling said countries could ban gay and bisexual men from ever donating blood, but only under strict conditions. While the court found that the lifetime ban was “liable to discriminate against male homosexuals on the basis of sexual orientation,” which is against EU policy and sent it back to the original French court for further study.

The French government has said that they will continue to monitor the risks of gay and bisexual men donating blood and will likely reduce the amount of time they must remain celibate in order to donate.

Benoît Vallet, the head of France’s national health agency DSG, believes the lifting of the ban will result in 21,000 new donors, or 37,000 more donations, per year.

The United States recently relaxed their blood ban in December to allow gay and bisexual men to donate if they have remained celibate for a year. The call for a complete end to the ban has increased in recent years, especially after the Orlando shooting, where there was a need for blood but many were left unable to help.

Wikipedia has a handy table of the various laws pertaining to blood donation for MSM, and their female sexual partners, in countries around the world.

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