Should gay men be permitted to give blood?
This article looks at a growing movement of protest against the ban on homosexual men giving blood. The same ban applies in Ireland and the UK – it was debated in the NI Assembly and the subject of a recent call for change by Stonewall.
The issue is significant because it can be considered ‘profiling’. This goes against principles of justice in the UK and Ireland, as Hazel Blears noted when she condemned its use in anti-terror operations. Do the rules represent homophobic hypocrisy?
Giving blood – urgent, except if you’re gay.
With the selection criteria for blood donations to be widened in April, gay people are demanding not to be excluded.
(From Montpellier) The multi-coloured flags of the Lesbian and Gay Pride organisation fly in front of the white vans. On the 13th February, the gay community gathered together to call for equality in the giving of blood.
As the need for donors becomes increasingly urgent, Minister for Health, Roselyne Bachelot, signed a decree on the 14th January widening the criteria for blood donations. Taking effect in April, it will allow donors to give more, for a longer duration and without an age-limit for the first donation. But this step forward continues to exclude blood donations by male homosexuals, considered to be “at risk.” The Minister’s words at the press conference held on the 26th November, 2007 at the Ministry of Health, had raised hopes within the LGBT community. Bachelot mentioned her willingness to suspend the ban, which dates from 1983, on homosexual men being donors. She explained her words in Libération on the 14th January, 2009.
“The epidemiological data are incontestable: between 10 and 18% of gay people are infected, whereas the figure is 0.2% in heterosexuals. Epidemic situations are not the same. There is a risk, and this risk is too high. Hence maintaining this contraindication.”
Heterosexuals too are increasingly infected
Following this, the scattered protest movements were organised in several towns. Behind the small rally of thirty people in Montpellier were the Lesbian and Gay Pride organisation, followed by the town’s recently-formed collective Pink Freak’x. Maïa, co-founder of this LGBT movement, explains the significance of this struggle to the community:
“This discrimination confuses gay people and risk-taking behaviour. This restriction would be justified by the rate of HIV, that’s to say the increased risk of HIV infection among homosexual males. But studies prove that heterosexual women are also increasingly affected by infection. There are gay people who are faithful, who live in couples, and there are heterosexuals who are all over the place.”
The young activist condemns the discrimination by profile. “Even if you aren’t homosexual, if they think you look it or act it, they throw the bag in the bin.” Their demands? The end of the stigmatisation of a population said to be at risk, so as to longer talk about risk-taking behaviour as indicated by a made-to-measure questionnaire.”
“If there is any doubt, it is preferable to throw out the bag.”
In front of the vans, she is keeping an eye on the protesters. Dr Pierrette Cazal, head of the Montpellier branch of the French Institution of Blood, comments on their action:
We know that, for male homosexuals, it feels like exclusion. Unfortunately, there are statistical studies which show that, if we took their blood, there would be an increased of contamination by HIV. The prevalence of HIV among homosexual men is 100% higher than elsewhere…”
Regarding the claimed ‘crime by profile’, the manager denies it, but prefers to justify the eventual act with the concern of the patient’s safety:
“If there is any doubt about how the volunteer answers questions, it is preferred that the doctor throws away the bag.”
The questionnaire depends on the good will of the volunteers who, homosexual or heterosexual, can choose to lie. Biological tests on each donation cannot detect a recent infection. There is a ‘window of silence’ of twelve days for HIV, and up to four months for the Hepatitis B virus.