The MSM blood ban
It’s about time the NBS get a grip and move beyond drawing circles around “gay” and “straight” and instead draw circles around “safe” and “not safe”."
For many years “men who sleep with men” (MSM) have been unable to donate blood because of discriminatory rules predicated on the idea that gay men are more likely to carry HIV/AIDS, and that there was therefore too high a risk of transmission to take blood from this group of people for use in the National Blood Service (NBS).
That all changed this month as it was announced that the lifetime ban would be lifted and replaced with a twelve month ban; MSM would be able to donate blood providing they had no sexual contact with a man in the last year.
Organisations like the National Union of Students (NUS) LGBT Campaign and Stonewall have been campaigning on this issue for years, arguing that LGBT men should be treated no differently than straight men when it comes to giving blood; so when the decision was announced, it was heralded as a victory by many. But that victory is a hollow one; hollow because whilst it is now technically possible for gay and bi-sexual men to give blood, for most of us it won’t make any difference.
The NBS has admitted time and time again that the demand for blood is rapidly outstripping the supply they receive, and yet still the NBS is turning away LGBT men that are willing to donate and perfectly healthy. As an organisation, it has decided to continue to draw circles around sexuality and not around safety; as an organisation it has decided to keep reinforcing age old prejudices and to uphold myths about the LGBT community that are totally unfounded.
The facts are simple: forty-five per cent of HIV/AIDS transmission is through gay couples whilst fifty-five per cent is through straight couples. Gay and bi-sexual men are not any more of a high risk group for transmitting HIV/AIDS than straight men and taking blood from a sexually active LGBT male is no more risky than anyone else – there should be no ban at all! It’s simply not true that HIV/AIDS is a gay disease, but by continually creating barriers to donation for LGBT men, the NBS upholds a lie and broadcasts it to the world. This rule change might be a step in the right direction, but it’s just as discriminatory for the vast majority of gay men.
To give credit where credit is due, the NBS have attempted to acknowledge the truth about HIV/AIDS infection – it heavily influenced the new rules – but now Hepatitis B is being used as the excuse to stop LGBT men donating. Hepatitis B is one-hundred times more infectious than HIV/AIDS and one in three gay or bi-sexual men in London will contract it by the time they are thirty-five. Unlike HIV/AIDS though, is completely treatable and preventable with a free course of injections from your GP. As an excuse to still have a blanket ban, it’s pretty weak; if Hepatitis B is such a problem for gay and bisexual men – which clearly it is – why was this not the reason for the life-time ban in the first place? I’ll tell you why; it’s because the ban isn’t about science or safety, it’s about prejudice, and to claim otherwise is sheer naivety. This is institutional homophobia that we’ve accepted, put up with, and continue to see at every turn and enough is enough.
It doesn’t matter what disease they try and use to stop us from donating blood, the underlying tone is clear and it must be continually confronted until gay and bisexual men enjoy the same freedom to donate blood to save lives as anyone else. With the exception of obvious mechanics, there is nothing different about the way MSM conduct their sex lives compared to straight men. They can be just as careful – practicing safe-sex – as straight men. They can be just as promiscuous, or not, as straight men. They can hold monogamous relationships just like straight men. The LGBT community is not a disease ridden pack of whores any more than the straight community.
And it comes back to this idea of drawing circles. A gay man practicing safe sex can be excluded from donating blood whilst a straight man can sleep with half of the country without a second thought for safety, and yet the latter can still give blood because they slept with women and not men.
It’s about time the NBS get a grip and move beyond drawing circles around “gay” and “straight” and instead draw circles around “safe” and “not safe”. This is progress, but it’s not the progress we need. The fight for equality for LGBT people must continue.