LGBT History Month - Jordan Eagles and Blood Equality

As LGBT History Month comes to a close, we wanted to shine the spotlight on the provocative work of New York-based artist and activist Jordan Eagles, who featured in our 2017 BLOOD: Life Uncut season with his work Blood Equality Illuminations, part of Jordan’s ongoing Blood Mirror Project.

Blood Equality Illuminations highlights the US and UK legislation around blood donation from sexually active gay, bisexual and transgender people - regulations state that these groups must be celibate for a number of months before donating. Jordan asserts that this reflects stigma not science, and so his work questions the discrimination against prospective donors, whilst also advocating for allowing everyone an equal opportunity to donate blood.

Blood Equality Illuminations unites 59 voluntary human blood donations from the MSM (men who have sex with men) community that Eagles collected for the Blood Mirror project. The donations came from two groups - the first from nine individuals, each with unique life experiences and perspectives, highlighting the repercussions of the ban and the importance of full equality, and the second group combined blood from a community of 50 PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis - a daily pill proven to be 99.9% effective in preventing HIV transmission (iPrEx trial)) advocates, each of whom donated a single tube of blood - the 50 tubes amount to a full pint, which is the amount of a standard blood donation.

For Blood Equality Illuminations this blood was scanned and printed as digital composites and then projected onto surfaces to create an immersive installation. Through the projection you can ‘step into’ the blood - blood which could have been used medically and given to someone in need by way of a selfless act.

But why does the ban exist in the first place? In the US, the FDA implemented a lifetime ban in 1983 on blood donations from MSM in response to the AIDS crisis. In December 2015, the FDA updated its policy to allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood, but only if they are celibate for a full year. In the UK, the original lifetime ban came in even earlier in 1980, again as a response to the AIDS crisis, and it was not until September 2011 (excluding Northern Ireland until September 2016) that this was revised to 12 months.

In July 2017, during the BLOOD: Life Uncut season, it was announced that UK legislation (excluding Northern Ireland) for MSM would be changed in November 2017 to allow them to donate blood 3 months after having sex, as opposed to the 12 month period that had previously been in place. This deferral period is the lowest in the western world, but there are countries in Europe, such as Spain, Italy, Poland and Russia, who do not discriminate on blood donations in relation to sexuality, but instead take into account the risks of donors’ sexual practices.

There is no celibacy requirement for heterosexuals, regardless of their risk for contracting HIV. And a UCLA Williams Institute study found that lifting the ban completely could save up to a million lives annually.

Whilst the legislation has been relaxed in the UK, there are still campaigns ongoing across the country and you can hear from some of those campaigners in our podcast ‘Is It Time To Lift The Restrictions On Gay Men Donating Blood?’

You can read more about the Blood Equality campaign in the US at https://www.blood-equality.com/.

If you are one of our readers from across the pond, you can also see Jordan Eagles’ Blood Mirror at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama through to World Blood Donor Day, June 14th, 2018.

If you want to find out more about the UK blood donation policy, you can check out the links below:

https://www.blood.co.uk/who-can-give-blood/men-who-have-sex-with-men/

http://www.tht.org.uk/get-involved/Campaign/Our-campaigns/Blood-donations