A 28-year-old man from Belfast has made history as Northern Ireland’s first gay man to donate blood after restrictions were lifted.

Controversial blood donation rules in Northern Ireland barring gay and bisexual men from donating blood were lifted on 1 June.

Originally, the rule stipulated that gay and bisexual men had to remain celibate for 12 months before donating blood.

Since 1 June, that period has been reduced to three months, bringing the policy in line with the rest of the UK which introduced the three-month period back in 2017.

Making history

Unable to see his partner since lock-down was introduced, Stevie Maginn saw the perfect opportunity to donate blood and become the first gay man to do so since the restrictions were lifted.

The 28-year-old from Belfast said: “It is something I’ve thought about doing for years and I’m already on a register to donate spinal fluid for stem cell donation and organ donation.

“I will continue to campaign for ‘Freedom To Donate’ and I would be happy to meet the Health Minister, Robin Swann, following the coronavirus pandemic.

“Science and international experience shows that a model based on sexual activity and not sexuality would not only deal with what I see as an equality issue that stigmatises men who have sex with men, but it would also lead to safer outcomes for recipients.”

Last week, 36 MPs wrote a joint letter endorsing the Freedom to Donate campaign in England, which calls for restrictions for gay and bisexual men to be lifted.

A lifetime ban for men who had sex with other men was introduced when concerns surrounding HIV reached a peak in the 1980s. In Great Britain, this was amended to a 12-month wait in 2011, before being extended to Northern Ireland in 2016.

In 2017, Northern Ireland’s health department agreed to begin work on a change in policy, reducing the waiting period in Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK.

Discussing attitudes in Northern Ireland, Stevie said: “It’s a much better place for LGBTQ folk than it once was. The introduction of marriage equality was a big win, but there are many other issues that continue to stigmatise LGBTQ people, leading to poor health and mental outcomes.

“We still don’t have a proper system of LGBTQ-inclusive reproductive and sexual education in our schools, for example.

“Removing this stigmatising blood ban would be another important move towards full queer equality in the North.”

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