National Blood Center in Lithuania collects blood out of average 150 blood donors per day. However, in order for the national blood donation to be sufficient, there is a need of app. 200 blood donors per day. Up until 2022, not everyone who wanted to become a blood donor in Lithuania could do so. Gay men had been excluded from this opportunity, and this discriminatory restriction had been enshrined in law since 2005.
In 2021 I officially appealed to the Ministry of Health and the National Blood Center regarding this discriminatory ban and it yielded positive results. Sine 1 May 2022 the updated blood donation form came into effect, which officially abolished this discriminatory ban. I thank the aforementioned institutions for showing leadership in not sorting people based on their sexual orientation.
On this occasion, we have organized a blood donation campaign in the premises of the National Blood Center in Vilnius, to which we invited everyone to donate their blood. I have also donated blood for the first time myself. I did not do it before because I did not want to humiliate myself by lying about who I was. I know that many LGBT+ people have been blood donors before. I hope that from now on we will be able to do good deeds with a little more dignity.
The ban on homosexual and bisexual men becoming blood donors became widespread in the 1980s, when it was discovered that HIV infection could be transmitted through blood. It is important to mention that this happened almost four decades ago. Since then, laboratory blood testing has improved to such extent that many countries around the world are now abandoning this bas. For example, the United Kingdom changed its regulation on blood donation, so that the ban on donating blood applies to anyone who has had unprotected sex in the last three months, regardless of the donor’s sexual orientation.
In 2011, the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson in Lithuania issued a decision stating that banning homosexual men from donating blood contributes to negative perceptions towards this social group, as gay men are automatically classified as carriers of HIV and other STIs. The Office submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Health asking to reconsider this discriminatory ban. The conclusion by the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson was clear – risky sexual behavior and not donor’s sexual orientation should be considered as the risk factor.
In 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that discrimination against blood donations on the grounds of sexual orientation was unacceptable. Although the countries of the European Union are free to make such decisions independently, restrictions of a similar nature in many countries encourage the stigmatization of gay men as if HIV and other STIs were spreading exclusively because of this group. In addition, similar bans do not apply to women, which signals the possible discrimination not only on the basis of sexual orientation, but also on the basis of gender.
I am convinced that the ban on homosexual and bisexual men becoming blood donors in Lithuania was excessive, discriminatory and potentially prevented from saving human lives. This is not a health hazard issue, but a human rights issue. I am glad that little by little we manage to break the ice and are moving towards a more open approach to human rights.