Post-377A, Discrimination is Still in Our Blood (Donations)
Top image: Stephanie Lee / RICE File Photo

Being celibate is often seen as a skill issue. But for gay men, there’s a specific silver lining—it allows them to give blood and save lives.

In Singapore, strict blood donation rules apply to people who engage in certain “high-risk” activities. This includes men who have sex with men (MSM), women who have sex with MSM, and people who have casual sex. 

However, of these three groups, MSM are the only group with a lifetime ban on donating blood. Women who have sex with MSM have a one-year deferral period, while people who have casual sex have a three-month deferral period. 

Image: HSA website / Screengrab

This means that any man who has ever had sex with another man—even just once, and even including oral sex—is permanently banned from ever donating blood in Singapore.

But as research and experience in other countries have shown, this outdated ban holds no water in the present day.

So why this disparity? Why are we holding on to prejudices that bar people from donating blood based solely on their sexual orientation?

When we face blood supply shortages fairly frequently, why deny anyone who’s willing to do good?

Image: Stephanie Lee / RICE File Photo

In Our Blood

Growing up, my mother would bring me along with her when she donated blood. I would watch her disappear into the donation area for about 15 minutes and emerge no worse for wear (besides a bandage on her arm). 

It became self-evident that I would start donating blood as soon as I could. It was a free, simple act of kindness with huge ramifications for anyone who needs blood transfusions.

Unfortunately, this act of kindness is not available to all.

The ban against MSM donating blood dates from the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, where gay men formed a significant portion of those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. For a time, AIDS was even known as GRID—Gay-Related Immune Deficiency.

During a time when there was a lack of information about how to test for and treat HIV, a blanket ban on blood donation for MSM was cautious and fair. This eventually evolved into section 11 of the Infectious Diseases Act, which was added in 1992.

This law criminalises people who supply “false or misleading” information about disease transmission risk in a blood donation. A blood donor faces a fine of up to $20,000 and/or jail for up to two years.

In 2024, a man was jailed for failing to declare a sexual encounter with another man before his blood donation. He was hauled to court when his blood tested positive for HIV. His lawyer said he wanted to help after learning that there was a blood supply shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He was rewarded with a jail term.

Similarly, in 2019, a man was fined and jailed for lying on his blood donor health questionnaire about his sexual history. He was discovered to have HIV but told the court that he would not have donated if he had known he was positive and was only intending to encourage his colleagues to donate blood.

In many of these cases, the men aren’t intentionally trying to spread the virus to unsuspecting victims. Sure, they shouldn’t have lied. But perhaps the more pertinent question here is why we need to exclude the entire MSM community in the first place.

These days, there are reliable and fast ways to test for HIV. Singapore’s blood supply is tested for HIV and other blood-borne infections. The risk of transmitting HIV through a blood donation is one in 1,100,000.

So, what’s the point of singling out MSM for exclusion?

Image: Zachary Tang / RICE File Photo

Don’t Stop Me Now

This ban reflects and perpetuates a longstanding prejudice that associates MSM with HIV/AIDS. While MSM are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV, simply attributing HIV transmission to MSM ignores the root causes of higher HIV prevalence.

A blanket ban on MSM effectively assumes that all forms of sex between men are high-risk. It drives the narrative that all queer men are dirty or promiscuous without consideration for mitigating factors.

While anal sex is more likely to transmit HIV, not all MSM engage in anal sex, and it’s not exclusive to MSM. Everyone has an asshole, after all. On the other hand, oral sex has one of the lowest risks of HIV transmission but would still get MSM banned.

And, of course, MSM do engage in safe sex. Organisations like Gayhealth have worked to raise awareness of ways to prevent the spread of HIV. MSM are aware of the importance of testing, condom use, and medications to prevent and manage HIV—arguably more so than the general population.

There are also plenty of queer men in long-term, monogamous relationships.

But you wouldn’t think that from the ban, which is based on (and in turn perpetuates) the idea that queer men spend all their free time having drug-fuelled orgies in saunas.

Even after the repeal of section 377A, there remain policies that reveal our misconceptions and apprehensions about sex between men and queer bodies.

I concede that a blood donation ban might seem like a relatively small issue when we don’t have marriage equality. But sometimes, progress doesn’t look like a landmark change in laws. 

It might take the form of smaller changes that challenge the perception of queer people as inherently sinful and diseased. We already have precedent for that.

blood donation
Image: Stephanie Lee / RICE File Photo

Safety Without Stigma

Multiple countries, including Argentina, Bhutan, Russia, and the United Kingdom, have moved towards adopting less discriminatory blood donation policies.

In 2021, the UK changed blood donation rules so that anyone who has had anal sex with a new partner must wait three months before donating. This applies regardless of gender or sexual orientation, allowing the UK to screen for blood-borne infections without singling out certain groups of people.

The UK has, and continues to have, one of the safest blood supplies in the world, with a one in 23 million chance of an HIV infection going undetected.

In 2015, Welsh poet RJ Arkhipov said: “To deny a gay man the ability to donate blood, to potentially save another human’s life, to me, is more dehumanising than to deny him the right to call his union ‘marriage.’”

While Arkhipov can now donate blood in his homeland, the same cannot be said for MSM in other countries, including Singapore.

There are proven ways to ensure a safe blood supply without excluding MSM. We don’t need to rely on outdated attitudes that associate MSM with HIV. A blanket ban discriminates on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, without consideration for the actual risk of sexual activities.

This isn’t just about allowing MSM to donate blood. It’s about how we view queer men—their bodies and relationships. It’s a sign that nearly two years on from repeal, prejudice and discrimination still exist in obvious and more subtle ways.

It’s not just about changing a few laws. But it’ll be a good start.

If you haven’t already, follow RICE on InstagramTikTokFacebook, and Telegram. While you’re at it, subscribe to Takeaways, our weekly newsletter.
If you have a lead for a story, feedback on our work, or just want to say hi, you can also email the writer at or at
Loading next article...