Health care providers are staging an “illegal blood bank” in London to protest the country’s sexually active gay men from donating blood.
The event will take place on November 23, and is sponsored by the organization Freedom to Donate and the entertainment company UNILAD.
Currently, men who report having sex with men must be celibate for three months before giving blood in most of the U.K., with a waiting time of 12 months in Northern Ireland. This ban comes despite their actual risk factors.
Organizers of the protest say that the restriction is based on outdated stigma towards gay people and doesn’t take into account modern testing techniques. Tests are now able to detect HIV in blood three weeks after exposure, rather than three months.
As part of the blood bank action, medical professionals will assess participants’ individual level of risk, screening donors on a case-by-case basis rather than simply banning someone based on sexual orientation.
In a statement provided by UNILAD, Su Brailsford, Consultant in Epidemiology and Health Protection for NHS Blood and Transplant, said, “this group is using an evidence based approach to explore if a more individualized blood donation risk assessment can be safely and practically introduced, while ensuring the safe supply of blood to patients.”
It’s unclear what will happen to the blood that is collected. It will not be used in a clinical setting, and could simply be destroyed at the end of the event without being used, serving as only a demonstration.
Blood donations by men have dropped by 25 percent since 2014 in the U.K. That compares to a drop of just 6 percent among women during the same time period.
The U.K. needs 135,000 new donors every year to keep up with demand, and to account for people who are no longer eligible to donate.
In the U.S., a similar ban says that men who have had sex with other men can not donate for one year. The policy for trans women is less clear; The Red Cross requires donors who were previously turned away when they identified as male are required to call the Donor and Client Support Center to determine their eligibility.
There’s no comparable limit for people who have sex with other genders.