Every few weeks or so we get a call at my house from the local blood bank requesting we look into our hearts and make the time to come down and donate some blood. Although I have still never qualified (low iron count both times I tried) both of my parents have donated several times, my father even giving platelets (much more involved procedure) at times.
I remember clearly the survey they have you take before donating – but I hadn’t given it much thought, to be honest, until someone at the Night of Noise (event following the Day of Silence) mentioned in passing that gay men still can’t give blood in the United States.
Yup, you heard me right: if you are a gay or bisexual male living in US, UK, Germany, Hong Kong, or Canada you cannot give blood ever, not even if you haven’t been sexually active for years. Its not much better in other countries either: in South Africa and New Zealand gay and bisexual men cannot give blood until five years have passed since they engaged in sexual activity (protected or not) with another man, in Argentina, Australia, Japan, and Hungary its one year. There is reasoning behind this practice that claims not to discriminate maliciously but rather due to practicality:
“All donated blood is obviously tested carefully – but it can take a few months for the HIV virus to show up. So if you only recently contracted HIV and you then give blood, you can unwittingly inject the virus into the blood bank. Gay men are seven times more likely to contract HIV than straight men. So it has been judged that the risk is simply too great.”
Now, while this may seem reasonable for a few seconds, maybe, once this “defense” is examined it hardly stands up. Plain and simple these policies are needless discrimination against gay individuals and should not be tolerated.
Lets look at the facts: some studies cite that gay men are up to seven times more likely to be HIV positive than straight men,however, its ridiculous to translate this statistic into the policy that it has created.
First of all: what about the gay men who have practiced safe sex every time? What about monogamous gay men who are having sex with a partner they know is clean? Why should these men be discriminated against when the likelihood of their having contracted HIV is most likely lower than that of a straight individual who has engaged in unprotected sex within the last ten years (I say ten years because some proponents of the gay blood ban use the fact that HIV can have a ten year latency period to defend the ban.)
Lets look at this from another angle, according to the US Government website concerning AIDS “African Americans face the most severe rates of HIV infection in the nation. The harsh reality is that 1 in 16 black men will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lifetime, as will 1 in 30 black women.” Does this mean that black men and women should be barred from donating blood? Of course not because that is discriminatory – yet we allow our blood banks to discriminate against gay men in exactly this way.
Lets also look at the fact that they have to test the blood anyway, whether they take gay blood or not because people lie, they lie about having unprotected sex, they can even lie about being straight (but the point is, they shouldn’t have to lie because it shouldn’t matter.) Also, people are sometimes just uninformed – its perfectly plausible that a person – straight or gay – could have an STD and not know it, donating bad blood with the best of intentions. This is why they test all of the blood anyway, meaning there is no reason not to take gay blood because more likely than not if that man has HIV and doesn’t realize it, they’ll catch it. Not only is this practice discriminatory and unnecessary, its actually harmful.
“The US epidemiologist and bio-ethicist Dr Scott Halpern crunched the figures for the court. Some 1 in 100 people who are infused with blood older than 14 days will die – and 13 per cent of infused blood offered by the Red Cross is older than that. This, he explained, poses a risk “thousands of times greater” than “the very worst predictions of HIV infection” if you let latex-loving gay men donate. Why? Because if the ban is lifted and gay men who practice safe sex are allowed to donate, a single HIV-positive blood donation will slip through clinical screening once every 5,769 years. That’s one time between now and the year 7777 – or equivalent to it happening once since 3761 BC, when cities had not yet been invented.“
What we should be encouraging is education. Education about safe sex, about blood donation, and STI awareness – if we can educate people better we can both cut down on the instances of HIV, as well as create a climate where people can more confidently give viable blood. Education, not discrimination, should be our goal.