The National Blood Center collects blood out of average of 150 donors daily. However, in order for the blood donation to be sufficient, there is a need of that number to be at least 200. It is true that not everyone who wants to become a blood donor in Lithuania can do it – gay men are excluded from this opportunity and this discriminatory restriction is enshrined in an order signed by the Minister of Health in 2005.
The ban on homosexual men becoming blood donors around the world became widespread in the 1990s, 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 the laboratory blood tests have improved to such an extent that many countries around the world are now abandoning this restriction. Britain, for example, has pledged to change its blood donation regulations by the summer of this year 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. Interestingly, in the neighboring countries of Latvia, Poland and Russia, there are no restrictions at all on homosexual men becoming blood donors.
In 2011, the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson issued a statement stating that banning homosexual men from donating blood contributes to a negative perception of this social group, as gay men are automatically classified as carriers and vectors of HIV and other contagious diseases. The Office submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Health to reconsider this discriminatory restriction. The Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson’s conclusion was unequivocal: the risk factor should be the potentially unsafe sexual behavior of the potential donor and not his or her sexual orientation.
In 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union 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 decisions independently, restrictions of a similar nature in many countries encourage the stigmatization of gay men as if HIV and other infectious diseases 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 men becoming blood donors in Lithuania is excessive, discriminatory and potentially prevents people’s lives from being saved. This is not a question of safety, but of human rights.