Dutch blood bank expecting hundreds more donors as it allows queer men to come forward

Close-up of doctor taking blood

A Dutch blood bank is expecting between 100-500 new donors after inviting monogamous gay and bisexual men to come forward.

The Netherlands‘ blood bank, called Sanquin, has changed its donor eligibility criteria to allow a significant number of gay and bisexual men to donate blood.

Under the new rules, queer men can donate blood – as long as they have only had one sexual partner over the preceding 12 months.

Previously, Sanquin required gay and bisexual men to abstain from sex for four months before donating blood – a policy that was a hangover from the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

Countless countries introduced restrictions on queer men donating blood in the 1980s when HIV was spreading rapidly in the LGBT+ community. Decades on, those policies remain in place in the form of “deferral periods” – or celibacy requirements – which some activists have described as discriminatory.

Sanquin has faced criticism from LGBT+ rights group COC, which said blood donation policies should be based on sexual behaviour rather than sexual orientation, according to Dutch News.

Dutch blood bank doesn’t want to ‘exclude’ gay and bisexual people ‘unnecessarily’

The blood bank announced its policy change on Wednesday (1 September). Sanquin spokesperson Marloes Metaal told Dutch broadcaster NOS that they have previously relaxed restrictions on queer men, moving from a lifetime ban to a four-month celibacy requirement.

Metaal said they were able to move to a fairer, more equitable system thanks to advances in blood screening, which means HIV can be detected more easily in the blood supply.

“We are moving from a group approach to an individual risk assessment,” she said. “We want uncontaminated blood but we don’t want to exclude people unnecessarily.”

The Netherlands is just the latest country to relax restrictions on LGBT+ blood donors. In May, the NHS in England announced that it would be changing its policies to allow more gay and bisexual men to donate blood.

On its new Donation Safety Check form, all blood donors are asked the same gender-neutral questions about sexual activity. Previously, men were asked if they had ever had sex with another man.

Other countries have moved away from lifetime bans on queer men donating blood. The United States requires gay and bisexual men to abstain from sex for three months before donating blood, while some other countries continue to impose a 12-month celibacy requirement.