OPINION: LGBTQ+ people living with HIV should have the right to start a family

by Adam Freedman | National Aids Trust
Friday, 9 June 2023 05:00 GMT

Demonstrators wearing face masks kiss as they take part in the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) pride march in London, Britain, June 27, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

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The UK law dually discriminates against LGBTQ+ people living with HIV by preventing them from donating their sperm or eggs

Adam Freedman is senior policy and campaigns officer at National AIDS Trust.

Everyone should have the same opportunities when it comes to starting a family – but sadly this isn’t a reality for LGBTQ+ people living with HIV.

Under current UK law, people living with HIV are banned from donating their sperm or eggs (gametes) to another person undergoing fertility treatment on a blanket basis. This means LGBTQ+ people can’t even donate to their own partner.

This ban is discriminatory – it is both morally wrong and based on outdated science.

Over the past 15 years, our understanding of how HIV is transmitted has transformed. Now we know that when it comes to HIV transmission, “Undetectable = Untransmittable”. This is known as “U=U”.

This global medical consensus means that a person living with HIV on effective treatment cannot pass the virus on sexually, as the levels of virus in their system are “undetectable”.

There is therefore no risk of the 98% of people currently living with HIV in the UK with an undetectable viral load passing this on when donating eggs or sperm.

Even for those with a detectable viral load, interventions like PrEP or sperm washing can be used to negate HIV transmission risk. HIV is not carried in eggs and sperm cells themselves.

For LGBTQ+ people living with HIV, the UK ban is doubly unfair. Government guidelines only allow for one specific exemption in which a person with HIV can donate: If they are in a heterosexual “intimate relationship”.

For these couples, the guidelines do not treat them as donors and therefore the same rules don’t apply. However, this does not extend to LGBTQ+ people, and can severely limit their options.

Surrogacy using your own sperm or eggs is not an option for LGBTQ+ couples or individuals living with HIV, despite there being no risk of transmission. If a lesbian couple wanted to pursue IVF but one of them was living with HIV, that person could not provide the egg for an embryo to be implanted in their partner’s uterus.

A person of any gender or sexuality who wishes to receive an egg or sperm donation from a friend or relative living with HIV is also not allowed to do so.

Many LGBTQ+ people or couples are often not able to conceive children without fertility treatment. This ban discriminates against them based on both their sexuality and their HIV status and is another way in which LGBTQ+ people are treated differently by the law.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has the power under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 to make changes to who can donate, in line with scientific developments.

We at National AIDS Trust are calling on the Secretary of State to use his legal powers to change the law given the evidence we already have available on HIV transmission risk today.

One of the tenets of Pride month is to raise awareness of continued injustice faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.

It’s time for us all to call on the government to end these exclusionary laws and allow all LGBTQ+ people living with HIV the chance to start a family of their own.

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

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