The ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men is still with us - but it could be on its way out soon.

Feature by Sam Butler | 11 May 2007

It'll be pretty hard to have missed the adverts. "Without these people, I'd be dead," whimpers Heather Mills. "This man helped my son through leukaemia," proclaims Gary Lineker. "Do something amazing today - give blood," pleads the voiceover at the end of one of the many television campaigns from the National Blood Service. "Unless you're a dirty gay, of course," pops up an irritatingly cheery Davina McCall, "in which case you can keep your filthy infected blood to yourself."

Okay, so I might have made up that last bit. But she - or some other renta-gob - might as well have said it. At least then it would spare thousands of men the humiliation of being sent home from donor clinics simply because they have sex with other men. The idea that all gay and bisexual men practise unsafe sex and are therefore more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases is not only outdated and homophobic, but also discriminative and now potentially illegal.

Legislation passed under the Equality Act last month, which bans discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, not only benefits lesbians, gay men and bisexual people - it benefits society as a whole when prejudice is challenged. In 2005, New Labour brought in laws recognising civil partnerships for same-sex couples. 2003 saw the repealing of Section 28 in Scotland. And in 2001 the age of consent for gay male sex was lowered. The fact that equal rights for LGBT people have come such a long way in the past ten years makes these donor selection rules seem all the more outdated.

Although the Blood Transfusion Service will still be allowed to turn away donations from gay and bisexual men, this is only if they can prove that the rules are based on good clinical, academic research. The question is, will the LGBT community be able to prove that the research is flawed?

Last year, students from universities across Scotland held demonstrations outside blood clinics across the country. Riots, you'd presume? Thousands of angry feather boa-clad men parading down the Royal Mile baying for blood? (Scary, huh?) No, there was no trouble. No arrests; in fact, there were no disruptions inside any of the clinics. Campaigners respected the privacy of donors who had gone to give blood and made every attempt not to disrupt the normal routines at the donor centres. Instead, their protest was one that actively encouraged people to give blood on their behalf – "Please give blood because we can't" was their message, handed out on donor-style cards.

And campaigning with such quiet dignity seems to have gathered more support. A petition sent to the Prime Minister to overturn the ban garnered over 5,000 signatures last month. Meanwhile, a counter-petition set up to keep the ban in place reaped merely four.

It's a complex dispute. Of course, everyone agrees that the most important thing is to make sure that blood stocks remain safe at all times. But stereotyping all gay and bisexual men as negligent in the practices of safe sex isn't really of any benefit to anyone.

Sorry, Lineker. Love to help. But being a dirty gay - I'm keeping my filthy infected blood to myself.