Lesbians, banned from giving blood since 1998, are now legally allowed to donate, according to a new national policy which took effect Sunday.
While applauding the move, those in the gay community believe there is still room for improvement, as gay men will still find it difficult to donate.
The Whole Blood and Component Donor Selection Requirements, released by the Ministry of Health last year, amended the provision which had forbidden homosexuals from giving blood. The previous requirements dated from 1998. It now does not mention homosexual identity, only stating that men who are sexually active with other men are still barred from donating.
An anonymous staff member from Beijing Red Cross Blood Center confirmed Monday that the center and the city's mobile blood centers had received the notice.
"According to the new policy, mobile blood centers should have started accepting lesbian donors from Sunday," she said.
The director of Common Language, an NGO dedicated to supporting lesbians and bisexuals, nicknamed Xian, said that she applauded the amendment and is planning to coordinate members of the NGO to donate blood.
Xian did not know lesbians were barred from giving blood until after the earthquake in Sichuan Province in 2008, when she was told she could not donate blood.
"It's scientific that the policy doesn't mention homosexual identity but only fences off some who have certain sex behaviors, because AIDS is not caused by one's homosexual identity but improper sexual behavior," said Xian.
She added that in the past, although a lesbian was able to donate by concealing her homosexual identity, the new policy is still meaningful for them.
"It is also about our dignity and the elimination of blood donation discrimination," she said.
An employee at the mobile blood center in Xidan, Xicheng district, who refused to give her name, said Monday that she has not heard of the amendment, and so far, no one who came to donate had claimed to be a lesbian.
"But there is a training course tomorrow from the Beijing Red Cross Blood Center; that's possibly about the amendment," she said.
Well-known sexologist Li Yinhe said that as China learnt about AIDS and homosexuality at roughly the same time, in the 1980s, "the nation easily believed that being a homosexual equates to AIDS."
"Inadequate understanding of the two things is the main reason why 'homosexuals' was listed as a group not allowed to donate blood, as a way to prevent the spread of AIDS," said Li.
The first account of people contracting AIDS came in a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June, 1981. It mentioned five men, presumed to be homosexual, had contracted a disease thought to be caused by sexual contact.
The first case of AIDS in China occurred in 1985 when an Argentine visitor, also an AIDs patient, died during a trip to the country, according to Li.
"Judging from the amendment, the country's views on homosexuals and AIDS has progressed," Li said, noting that gay men were still thought of as a high-risk group for AIDS transmission, but lesbians are a low-risk group.
Huijin, 27, a lesbian in Beijing, said that she is happy to know about the amendment as it has restored lesbians' rights to donate blood.
"But the amendment is still not complete," she said, adding that gay men should also have the same rights.
"In Western countries, gay men can donate if they haven't had sex for a period of time," Huijin said.
USA Today reported in December, 2011 that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibits men who have had sex with other men at any time since 1977 from donating blood.
In 2010, the FDA reviewed the policy but upheld it, while in the UK, since November, 2011, gay men can donate blood, but only if they have abstained from sex for 12 months, according to a report in the Guardian on June 14.