The National Blood Center in Lithuania collects blood out of average 150 blood donors daily. However, in order for the national blood donation to be sufficient, there is a need of 200 blood donors daily. Not everyone who wants to become a blood donor in Lithuania can do it. Gay men have been excluded from this opportunity, and this discriminatory restriction have been enshrined in law since 2005.
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. In 2021, 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 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 pleased to announce that in 2022 the Ministry of Health issued a ministerial order lifting the ban on blood donations by homosexual and bisexual men. We have been raising this issue with the National Blood Center since the beginning of 2021. I am grateful to the Ministry for its leadership.