After decades of harsh restrictions for LGBTQI+ people who have wished to donate blood, Australia has finally relaxed its long-standing blood donation rules for gay and bisexual men, as well as those who are transgender.
While the historic change was announced last year by the Red Cross Lifeblood Service, the easing of restrictions officially came into effect on January 31, 2021, which saw the previous waiting period reduced from 12 months of abstaining from sex with other men—which has been in place since 2000—to three months.
According to the Queensland Times, the updated rules also apply to transgender people who have engaged in sexual contact with a man or transgender person within the past three months, as well as sex workers.
"Following the approval of our submissions by the TGA, subsequent agreement by all Australian governments, and an update of Lifeblood systems including the donor questionnaire form, we are pleased to report this change was applied on 31 January 2021 and is now in place for all applicable sexual-activity-based blood donation deferral policies," said a statement from Red Cross Lifeblood.
"At Lifeblood we're continuing our focus to make it easier for all Australians to give blood, while always ensuring Australia's blood and blood products are as safe as possible for blood recipients."
Australia now joins the United States and Canada who have also changed their blood donation rules to three months, per Gay Times.
But while the move is definitely a giant step forward, many LGBTQI+ activists have called into question the need for a celibacy period at all.
Rodney Croome, a spokesperson for just.equal, said in a press release that the Australian government needs to “adopt a new approach to blood donation that screens donors for their individual sexual risk rather than the gender of their sexual partner.”
“The current governments of both the United States and the United Kingdom are committed to replacing their gay blood bans with individual risk assessment, and it’s time for Australia to do the same.
“We call on the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood Service to ditch a policy American experts label ‘illogical and unsubstantiated’, and adopt a policy based on scientific evidence instead.”
Croome also noted a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, which found individual measures "are equally effective in protecting the blood supply."
“This landmark study confirms that reducing the celibacy period is tinkering at the edges,” he said.
According to news.com.au, the study also showed that among gay men who would donate blood, the prevalence of HIV is lower than in the general population.
The easing of restrictions hopes to see more donations after the COVID-19 pandemic caused a severe downfall over the past 12 months.