Patrick’s story … World Blood Donor Day and rules changing

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Patrick

Patrick’s story

Many gay men born in the 1950s and 1960s, before homosexuality was partially decriminalised in 1967, stayed firmly in the closet for decades. It can be hard now to remember the societal pressures that drove many into denial and marriage with women, despite knowing their own preferences. But not Patrick, who identified as straight throughout his early life.

“My friends think I’m a very strange gay guy, but I just loved women!” he says. “I knew about the gay life, but I had no feelings for it, nothing to do with it. I got married, had a very happy marriage, had two sons.”

He worked as an English teacher and, with a strict Irish Catholic upbringing, was active in his local church, while his wife was a teacher in a local Catholic primary school. So when an incident on holiday triggered unexpected feelings and he began to explore his sexuality, it came as something of a surprise.

“If I’d had feelings like that before I’d have told people,” he says. One thing led to another and, 30 years ago aged 41, he came out; it was a traumatic time for him and his whole family.

“It was a shock, and not everybody took it well,” he says. “It was different for my wife, different for my boys, different for my mum and dad – my mother took it very badly indeed, though my dad was amazingly supportive. Thankfully, attitudes have changed since that time.”

For today’s young people, it can be hard to imagine the difficulties faced by earlier gay generations. Patrick’s local priest banned him from the church, his marriage broke down, and he led a double life for some years, keeping his sexuality hidden at work and not coming out to his wider family for five years.

It was a lonely time. Then he bumped into a former pupil, got into a conversation about faith, and learnt about a support group for gay Catholics, which he started attending.

“That led to meeting people involved with other groups. It’s a networking thing, you get to hear about other clubs you might be interested in,” he says.

He joined a gay badminton group (he had always been a keen badminton player, playing in the top division of the local league), a gay choir and Manchester’s first LGBT line dancing club, the Prairie Dogs, set up 25 years ago (it won the best walking entry in Manchester Pride 2019’s parade). He also volunteered with the LGBT+ community, working with befriending schemes and as an HIV/Aids buddy.

“That was difficult at times, but I wanted to do something giving back to my community,” he says.

He stepped up as a diversity officer for his union, which led to him being appointed a delegate to LGBT+ conferences, where he has given speeches on a number of motions.

“I went through a lot, but I hear stories of unbelievable bravery and courage even now,” he says.

Clearly there is still much work to be done to ensure recognition and acceptance for LGBT+ people. But the community has many friendship groups to support older gay singletons – Patrick is a regular at Out in the City, a Manchester group for the over-50s.

“I’ve worked through some really bad times, but I’m very happy with my life,” he says.

“I’m single, but I’ve got a good, supportive friendship circle and a lot of activities. But do we have to have labels on people? I don’t go into places and announce myself as gay; my sexuality is my business.

We’re all human beings that should be treated with mutual respect and caring.”

You can also read Annie’s story here and Ted’s story here.

World Blood Donor Day

World Blood Donor Day is held on 14 June each year. The event was organised for the first time in 2005 to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products, and to thank blood donors for their voluntary life-saving gifts of blood.

It is celebrated on the birthday anniversary of Karl Landsteiner (14 June 1868) who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the ABO blood group system.

Blood donation rules changing (from 14 June 2021)

The eligibility rules around blood donation are changing to move towards a more inclusive and fairer process allowing as many people as possible to make the life-saving decision to give blood safely.

Following the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group’s recommendations and in line with the latest scientific evidence, blood donation will become more inclusive. More people could be eligible to donate blood based on their health, travel and sexual behaviour.

New guidance means your eligibility to give blood is based solely on your own individual experiences, making the process fairer for everyone. Switching to an individualised check is a fairer and as safe a way to spot infection. The changes mean many gay, bi-men and men who have sex with men in a long-term relationship will now be able to donate blood at any time.

What is changing?

From 14 June 2021, the questions you will be asked before you give blood are changing.

What questions will you be asked?

You will have to complete a Donation Safety Check and will be asked whether, over the last three months, you have:

  • Had sex with anyone who has had syphilis, hepatitis or anyone who is HIV positive?
  • Been given money or drugs for sex?
  • Had sex with anyone who has ever been given money or drugs for sex?
  • Had sex with anyone who has ever injected drugs?
  • Taken Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) / Truvada for prevention of HIV or taken or been prescribed Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) for prevention of HIV?
  • Used drugs during sex (excluding erectile dysfunction drugs or cannabis)?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then you are unable to give blood right now.

If you answered no to all of the questions above, you may be able to give blood if you meet the other eligibility criteria.

In addition, you will also be asked whether, over the last three months, you have:

  • Had sex with a new partner, or had sex with more than one partner?

If you answer yes to this question, you will then be asked if you had anal sex with any of your sexual partners.

  • If you have, you will not be able to donate for three months.
  • If you have not, you will be able to donate (subject to all other eligibility criteria).

What do the changes mean for transgender blood donors?

Being transgender does not in any way prevent you from being able to donate. All donors are addressed using the title and pronouns of their choice. NHS Blood and Transplant considers all donors to be the sex and/or gender that they identify as, including nonbinary, genderfluid and agender donors.

Currently, donors are asked about their assigned sex at birth every time they come to donate, because some blood products are safe to manufacture from the blood of donors assigned male at birth but not from those assigned female at birth.

Many trans people may not consider this suitable, but there are plans by September 2021 to require the assigned sex at birth only once at registration and not at every session.

First blood plasma for medicines donations begin

NHS Blood and Transplant is asking for men between the ages of 17 and 66 to consider donating their blood plasma which is used in the production of life-saving medicines. Thousands of patients rely on these antibody-based medicines called immunoglobulins, which are used for short-term treatment or lifelong diseases, they help people with weak immune systems and a variety of other rare disorders.

Men are more likely to have the blood plasma volumes and larger vein sizes making them ideal donors. Donating plasma takes about 45 minutes and is completely safe. During the process the plasma is filtered out of circulating blood by an apheresis machine and the red blood cells are returned to the donor. It is possible to donate as often as every two weeks and a maximum of 24 donations per year.

Donate plasma

Since 7 April 2021, people will donate blood plasma for medicines for the first time in more than 20 years at 14 donor centres around England including Manchester.

There is a global supply shortage due to rising demand. Up until now, the UK has depended on imports of blood plasma from other countries – mainly the US. Donations will bolster the supply chain and improve the self-sufficiency of the UK in producing its own treatments.

The restriction on using plasma from UK donors was introduced in 1998 as a precautionary measure against vCJD (Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease), but was lifted by the Department of Health and Social Care in February 2021. The independent Commission on Human Medicines advised it is safe and can recommence supported by a set of robust safety measures. Find out more about donating blood plasma by calling 0300 123 23 23.

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