David & Goliath

Freedom to Donate

Our simple vision was always that those who want to donate, and can do so safely, should be able to do so.

The Campaign

FreedomtoDonate was set up after its founder, Ethan Spibey, was prevented from giving blood because of restrictions on men who have sex with men being able to donate. A small team of volunteers, FreedomtoDonate launched a positive, evidence-backed campaign about opening up blood donation and treating gay and bisexual donors as individuals rather than one homogenous group.

Building constructive relationships with NHS Blood and Transplant, and setting up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blood Donation, FreedomtoDonate secured a review of donation criteria that reduced the deferral period for donors from 12 months to three months since last sexual contact.

The 2017 change was welcomed but FreedomToDonate continued to push for an individual, risk-based policy. This meant judging potential donors as individuals and not as one homogenous group, such as blanket restrictions on gay and bisexual men.

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The Change

The deferral reduction from 12 months to three months was better, but not enough. Gay and bisexual men were still being asked to abstain from all sex if they wanted to donate blood.

After years of calling for change on the outside, Freedom to Donate joined the NHS-backed group For the Assessment of Individualised Risk (FAIR), alongside the National Aids Trust, Stonewall and the Terrence Higgins Trust.

FAIR brought together UK blood services and LGBT organizations to explore whether sexual behaviours could be an effective method of assessing individual risk of STIs that can be transmitted via blood transfusions. In December 2020, FAIR’s recommendations finally pushed Health Secretary Matt Hancock to lift the three-month deferral period.

The changes are due to come into force this summer, meaning that all donors – regardless of gender, the gender of their partner, or the type of sex they have – will be able to give blood so long as they’ve been with one partner for more than three months.


The Future

FreedomtoDonate say that the lessons from their campaign include being deliberately cross-party, linking up politicians who were truly passionate about the topic.

The campaign ran on relatively little money, acting as a convening force for the energy of existing campaigners and other LGBT+ groups. By always promoting positive messaging, backed up by evidence and personal experiences of being rejected from blood donation, FreedomtoDonate showed what four people can achieve in their spare time if they’re passionate enough.

Who else was involved?

Ethan Spibey – Founder of FreedomToDonate
Joe Allen – Head of Media, FreedomToDonate
Dan Costen – Head of PR, FreedomToDonate