The British government has eased its blood donation restrictions on men who have sex with men.
Under new policy in the U.K., gay and bisexual men will now be allowed to donate blood three months after having sex as opposed to a full year, the Independent reports. An outright ban, implemented in 1981 during the AIDS crisis, had been cut to a 12-month abstinence policy in 2011.
As anticipated, the new guidelines reflect improved testing techniques that can now detect HIV, hepatitis, or syphilis contracted within three months. The policy changes follow recommendations made by the U.K.’s Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues, and Organs (SaBTO).
“This Government is committed to building an inclusive society that works for everyone, no matter what their gender or sexuality and today we’re taking the next step forward,” said Education Secretary Justine Greening. “We will build on the significant progress we have made over the past 50 years, tackling some of the historic prejudices that still persist in our laws and giving LGBT people a real say on the issues affecting them.”
LGBT rights activists are hailing the policy shift as a major step toward a more equal and inclusive system. “I’m so proud that the work of FreedomToDonate and our supporters will help ensure more people than ever before are allowed to safely donate blood,” said FreedomToDonate founder Ethan Spibey, who had heavily campaigned for reform.
Ruth Hunt, chief executive of Stonewall, is less enthusiastic but sees the policy revision as progress. “Changes to the blood donation rules are welcome,” she said. “However, while this is an important move, it’s vital that this is a stepping stone to a system that doesn’t automatically exclude most gay and bi men.”
Scott Cuthbertson of Equality Network also called the changes a “significant step forward,” but he remains concerned “that many low risk gay and bisexual men, for example those in monogamous relationships, will still not be allowed to donate under this new policy.”
Meanwhile, new U.K. reforms have also been introduced that will make it easier for transgender people to legally declare their gender by removing the need for intrusive medical diagnosis of transition.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. ruled in 2015 that gay and bisexual men are allowed to give blood, but only after abstaining from sex for a full year. This rule replaced an outmoded lifetime ban, established in 1992.
Last summer more than 100 members of congress called upon the FDA to lift its ban on blood donations from men who’ve had sex with men, pointing to new procedures that more accurately test for HIV.