France has lifted longstanding restrictions on gay and bisexual men who want to donate blood.
On Tuesday, January 12, 2022, Health Minister Olivier Véra announced that within two months, questions about sexual orientation will be removed from blood-donation questionnaires.
“Staring on March 16, 2022, all French people, whatever their sexual orientation, will be able to donate blood,” Véra wrote on Twitter. “We are ending an inequality that is no longer justified,” he added.
The ban, which began in 1983 during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis was enacted as an emergency measure to prevent blood contamination since the incidence of the virus disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men.
Several countries — including the U.S. — enacted similar bans at the time. Today, four decades since the first cases were diagnosed, advances in testing and diagnostic tools can safely detect the presence of the virus in the blood with high precision within days after infection.
Additionally, an overwhelming body of clinical evidence has now established the people living with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load, or the amount of HIV in the blood, by taking antiretroviral therapy as prescribed can’t sexually transmit the virus to others.
The ban in France went through a series of iterations. In 2019, gay and bisexual men were required to be sexually abstinent for at least four months, to be eligible to donate blood.
“Imposing a four-month period of abstinence on homosexuals wishing to donate blood is totally absurd and has always been seen as a form of discrimination, especially when we know that donations are in short supply,” Matthieu Gatipon-Bachette, the spokesperson for the French LGBTQ rights group Inter LGBT told the newspaper Le Parisien.
“Obviously there must be a health safety framework to be respected, but this must not be based on the sexual orientation of the donor,” he added.
Restrictions on blood donation based on the donor’s sexual orientation have been lifted in Brazil, Italy, and Spain, among other countries.
In August 2021, Israel announced it was ending a similar decades-old restriction.
“The prohibition on gay men donating blood was a relic of a stereotype that belongs in the past,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said in a statement shared on Facebook.
In April 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revised a similar ban in the U.S., changing a longstanding recommendation that allowed gay and bisexual men to only donate blood one year after their last sexual encounter.
The revised guidelines stated that “the agency is changing the recommended deferral period from 12 months to 3 months.”
The announcement came after years of intense campaigning by LGBTQ rights advocates, and in response to an urgent need for blood donations during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“LGBTQ Americans can hold their heads up today and know that our voices will always triumph over discrimination,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, told the Daily News at the time.
“This is a victory for all of us who raised our collective voices against the discriminatory ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood,” she added.
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