AFTER more than a year of dealing with the coronavirus, the state of our healthcare systems is something we’re all very aware of. Health in general has pressed itself to the forefront of our minds, and why shouldn’t it?

We’re rightly proud of the work the NHS in Scotland does, not only in dealing with a global pandemic but also other health issues.

How we treat the health and wellbeing of the citizens of our country is a marker more generally to how we practise the progressive values we preach. While there can be failures in how those services are delivered, the right policies at the very least can tell us a lot about how we view different groups in our society.

With that in mind, last week’s news of a partial lifting of the gay blood donation ban in Scotland should be welcomed – but the fact that it took so long reveals a lot about how necessary healthcare policies and services for the LGBTQ+ community have often taken a back seat to flashier big-ticket items such as equal marriage.

The gay blood donation ban was implemented in the UK at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Back then it was a lifetime ban, excluding gay and bisexual men from ever donating blood unless they remained celibate.

READ MORE: Patrick Harvie: Never forget origins of using trans people as a wedge issue

It wasn’t until 2011 that the ban was first partially lifted, reducing the amount of time men would have to wait after sex to donate from “never ever” to one year – and this is where the reasoning behind the ban strayed into highly questionable territory.

High-risk heterosexuals who had unprotected sex with multiple partners were still under less scrutiny than two gay or bisexual men practising safe sex in a monogamous relationship who would be automatically excluded from giving blood.

In 2017, the policy in Scotland was updated again, lowering the amount of time men had to wait to just three months – but that still carried over the decision to exclude sexually active men without question.

To make clear how ridiculous this was, a gay man could have been in a long-term, faithful relationship for years with no history of illness, yet a single moment of intimacy between him and his male partner would be cause to exclude them from giving blood for three months.

While on paper this appeared to be a policy change that would allow more gay men to donate blood, in practice it was still a lifetime ban for any couple who were having a sexual relationship.

This is such a common problem in policy and legislation around queer liberation and equality. Often a policy that appears to be taking steps in the right direction, in reality, achieves almost nothing. Take for example the lifting of Section 28 (or Section 2A in Scotland) which prohibited teaching about homosexual identities in schools.

While it was lifted in Scotland in 2000, it is only now 20 years later that we’re actually beginning to implement inclusive education. Sure, once the legislation was repealed teachers were free to talk about the fact that LGBTQ+ people existed – but that doesn’t mean they actually did.

The new policy brings a degree of parity to how blood donation is assessed for risk by focusing on individual behaviour rather than sexual orientation. Scotland has now adopted one of the most progressive positions on blood donations of any country globally – yet the policy change passed by relatively quietly.

Healthcare remains an issue that doesn’t always break into the mainstream, yet our opinions around it reveal a lot about our own values and political ideologies.

LOOKING to some of the male columnists and party candidates who have recently set themselves up as weathervane supporters of women’s rights, a cursory glance at their positions on healthcare paints a much clearer picture of their politics.

In many cases, those who have suddenly found use of the myth that trans equality will impact women’s rights were not too long ago arguing that Ireland should not repeal the Eighth Amendment, which effectively prohibited access to reproductive healthcare services.

As always, this argument is less about safe spaces than it is about bashing trans people whose healthcare has also been woefully underfunded.

Well before the pandemic put further strain on Scotland’s limited number of gender identity clinics, transgender people were waiting two years just for an appointment to speak with a healthcare professional. Now the situation is far worse.

READ MORE: LGBT charity welcomes new blood donor rules for gay and bisexual men

Not to mention that trans healthcare is under constant attack at present, with opponents advocating for policies that have been shown to be detrimental to the mental health of those who need access to these services.

This is one of the reasons I welcome the initiative to re-introduce rainbow NHS pins for healthcare workers who want to signal that they are open and understanding of the various healthcare needs of the LGBTQ community. This is something we were in danger of losing after almost identical pins were introduced during the pandemic to show support for frontline workers.

It is particularly given that gay and bi men may have been treated differently in hospitals up until not that long ago ...

Although it is much slower than would be ideal, thankfully there is some progress in LGBTQ+ healthcare. So well done to all who worked, campaigned and fought to bring policies on blood donation closer to an equal setting.

While it may have passed by with less fanfare than other policy victories, it’s still an important step toward a healthcare system that treats LGBT people with the dignity and resources we deserve.