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Bloody Homophobia

Throughout the last fifty years the western world has seen an array of events and figureheads that have paved the way for equality and an end to homophobia. From the gay politician Harvey Milk being elected into congress, to the legalisation of gay civil partnership, the world has slowly but surely come to accept and embrace the LGBT community. Although the road to equality has been long, the last hurdles are in sight. But one thing above all others threatens the end of the race. A hazard on the track sends the sprinter, emblem and champion of a world where sexual prejudice belongs to history, crashing down to the hard ground where he ruptures a vital organ, desperately in need of a blood transfusion. That hazard is that by UK law, gay and bisexual men are prohibited to give blood because of the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS as a homosexual disease, deeming their blood “high-risk” and unsafe. Sadly, that finish line could only have been a mirage.

At present any man or woman to have ever had sexual contact with a homosexual man is completely barred from giving blood in the UK. This lifetime ban is still in place even if the individuals in question have tested negative for HIV/AIDS and even if the individuals concerned have practised safe sex monogamously. In response to a similar article published by The Times, Ricardo Molina said “if you are straight and have multiple sexual encounters with strangers without protection, you are free to donate. The current rules are not just discriminatory, they are dangerous.” Quite right. The National Blood Service (NBS) claims that it has a “public duty” to ensure the safety of its bloody supply but hypocritically they fail at this public duty by discriminating against homosexual donors on grounds of promiscuity when heterosexuals with the same capacities to liaise freely are able to donate. Although the NHS and the NBS will claim that gay men are seven times more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than a heterosexual and thus potentially more dangerous donors, the ban on these men from donating is arguably more detrimental to the patients who need blood. It is a known fact that around 1 in 100 people who are supplied with blood which is older than 14 days will die and that 13% of blood transfused by The Red Cross is older than that. This potentially causes more deaths than the risk of ‘gay blood’ injecting HIV/AIDS into the national blood supply because there is simply not enough fresh blood in the supply due to a lack of donors. This predicament could of course be partly remedied by the lift of the ban. The issue of a lack of blood in the country is particularly relevant now due to the Swine Flu pandemic, which has prevented many regular donors from giving blood.

The public response to this issue is strong yet varied. Some believe, such as Peter Fone, that this is not a gay rights issue and we should not let the “PC brigade put people’s lives at risk” and “when you are gay, there are things you cannot do so…deal with it!” One would think that the most obvious gay response would be “why?” Why are there things that I cannot do because of my sexuality? The posters and advertisements that try and recruit blood donors state that “anyone with a heart can give blood” – I have a heart, I want to help save lives so why does my sexuality stop that? Oh, because some narrow-minded bigots are stationed in a national institution to the detriment of the leagues of people that need blood transfusions each year. To some extent, I agree that this is not a ‘gay issue’ – it is not about the wider implications of gay equality because obviously accelerating the spread of HIV/AIDS is not a price any member of the LGBT community is willing to pay for equal rights. However, the rationale is against the NBS on this, which bases its decisions on outdated, homophobic ideology rather than on science.

Countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Japan and even Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain where homosexuality is even more frowned upon have taken the steps to a twenty-first century way of thinking and lifted their bans to allow gay men to donate blood under certain circumstances. We need to follow suit and rid this country of this prejudice epidemic, which is far more fatal and long lasting than the fear of spreading HIV/AIDS by allowing gay men to donate blood. Only then will we be able to cross the finish line with the trophy of equality firmly in our grasp.

Sam Mustafa

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15 Comments on this post.
  • mike smith
    13 March 2010 at 09:40
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    This comment has been removed due to offensive content within.

  • Rob
    13 March 2010 at 15:54
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    Now Mike. If this is an attempt at offensive satire (say like the hilarious bigotry of Eric Cartman) I have to say I didnt do it for me.

  • Trevor C
    16 March 2010 at 05:43
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    Homosexuals want to be accepted and understood. I can understand that and think it fair enough. The problem is:
    I am straight and know other straight people that I cannot understand, and will never accept, as well as homosexuals. You cannot legislate passing laws that force people to accept or understand you.
    Generally if some law is passed to try and make me do something it just builds resentment.
    Ok! We have homosexuals, and we have straights. If we cannot find a way to live together, then maybe we need to find a way to live apart in peace.

  • What on earth are you talking about?
    16 March 2010 at 13:56
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    @Trevor C I find it hard to believe you can be saying what you are.

    “If we cannot find a way to live together” – nobody is saying that – you’re implying the situation is so bad that it is on the borderline of a bloody (no pun intended) civil conflict.

    “maybe we need to find a way to live apart in peace” WHAT? You seem to be suggesting some sort of segregation?

    “you cannot pass laws that force people to accept or understand you” well that’s true, you can’t control anyone’s views or prejudices by force. However, that has never been what the issue was about and it never was, not with any similar movement.

    I commend Impact for allowing such controversial viewpoints in the name of free speech. I only hope that rationality and reasoned debate will win through over prejudice and shouting.

  • Luke Place
    16 March 2010 at 17:17
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    More detail on the rationale here can be found at:

    http://www.blood.co.uk/can-i-give-blood/exclusion/

    Perhaps the most interesting section is the following:

    “In order to assure the continued safety of the blood supply, the current policy is to ask those in groups shown to have a particularly high risk of carrying blood-borne viruses not to give blood. These include men who have ever had sex with men. The reason for this exclusion rests on specific sexual behaviour (such as anal and oral sex between men), rather than the sexuality of the person wishing to donate. There is, therefore, no exclusion of gay men who have never had sex with a man nor of women who have sex with women.”

  • Luke Place
    16 March 2010 at 17:18
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    Another interesting section:

    “Every blood donation is tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), syphilis and human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV). However, despite improvements in blood screening tests, a small number of infected donations may be missed because of the ‘window period’ between getting the infection and the test showing a positive result.”

  • What on earth are you talking about?
    16 March 2010 at 17:42
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    The first point that Luke highlighted is almost valid, but crucially, there seems to be no legislation against women who have anal sex with men.

    The transmission rates of HIV between men who have anal sex with men as opposed to with women are not significantly different.

    Since a greater number (note, not percentage) of heterosexual people have anal sex than homosexual people, by that logic, anyone who has had anal sex should not give blood.

    If the risks of taking blood from those who have had anal sex is great enough that it outweighs any potential benefit, the question should be not be (and I paraphrase) “Are you a man who has had sex with a man?”. It should instead be “Have you had anal sex of any kind?”

  • Luke Place
    16 March 2010 at 18:35
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    My issue here is that discrimination is being justified by “statistical trends” rather than by the actual safety of the blood itself. This is being justified by the doubt resulting from the “window period”, but the existence of the “12 month ban” seems to suggest that the window period has already been accounted for in the existing procedures.

    In spite of the insistence that “exclusion rests on specific sexual behaviour”, men can give blood after engaging in oral and anal sex with numerous previously sexually active women, whilst men can’t do the same after a single sexual encounter with a man who was not previously sexually active.

  • Luke Place
    16 March 2010 at 18:38
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    It seems I should have refreshed the comments on this page before posting my comment. Although it’s nice that myself and “What on earth are you talking about?” appear to have come to some agreement.

  • Paul
    17 March 2010 at 02:53
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    “While the AIDS epidemic no longer has media attention,” O’Leary argues, “the fact is that the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases among MSM continues unabated. In the 1980’s HIV infection was a death sentence and many MSM modified their behavior, but with the introduction of antiretrovirals HIV became a chronic disease. MSM experienced condom fatigue and returned to sex with multiple partners. They seek sexual partners on Internet sites like Manhunt. They attend circuit parties, at which thousands of men engage in 3-day orgies of music, sex and drugs. The epidemic is fueled by drugs and alcohol, including crystal meth, poppers, ecstasy and Viagra. In spite of the risks, MSM openly solicit partners interested in bare-backing?unprotected anal sex.”

    O’Leary said that lifting the ban on gay blood could return us to what happened in the late 1970’s when men who have sex with men “were allowed to donate blood even though public health officials knew that the gay male community was in the midst of an ongoing epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including syphilis, gonorrhea, Chlamydia trachomatis, herpes, hepatitis, Shigella sonnei, Shigella flexneri, Campylobacter enteritis, Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella enteritis; Giardia lamblia, Entamoeba histolytica (amebic dysentery), and Entamoeba coli.”

    Currently, she noted, “HIV infection rates among MSM continue to rise, particularly among young MSM. Other STDs are rampant among both those who are HIV positive and those who are HIV negative. An outbreak of syphilis was traced to men seeking sex on the Internet. There was an epidemic of MRSA?the so-called flesh-eating bacteria among MSM. There have been outbreaks of Shigella in several urban areas.”

    While liberals like Kerry and Franken insist that diseases will be picked up by blood screening, O’Leary says that a new strain of Chlamydia that was not picked up by standard tests emerged in Sweden, “a warning that given the way epidemics of STDs spread we cannot be sure we have an accurate test for everything that is out there.”

    http://www.gopusa.com/commentary/ckincaid/2010/ck_03163.shtml

  • Luke Place
    17 March 2010 at 16:58
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    There are a few scary words and diseases there Paul, but couldn’t “MSM” quite easily be replaced by “WSM” in the paragraphs above?

  • anon
    29 March 2010 at 16:37
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    Hi, i just wanted to say yeah if that first comment was intentionally as homophobic as it sounds then please censor it, a lot of my friends are gay and i find it disgusting what you’ve said.

  • Sam Mustafa
    9 May 2010 at 17:13
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    As the writer of this piece, I was compelled to write a response for which I think these comments beg.

    To Mike Smith, I realise that this is an issue that divides people and of course you are entitled to your opinion, no matter how bigoted, narrow-minded and utterly atrocious that opinion may be. Your opinions however are not fact and are not reinforced by any science. You clearly haven’t read the article, for I state that ‘ it is not about the wider implications of gay equality because obviously accelerating the spread of HIV/AIDS is not a price any member of the LGBT community is willing to pay.’

    Having belonged to an LGBT community here in Nottingham and another at home in London, my personal experience is that people agree unanimously that this issue would not be on the table if the laws against gays/bisexual males were based on some truth. So how is it that gay people are selfish exactly? I think you are forgetting that this is not just a gay issue – that the lack of blood supply will affect you and those around you, regardless of sexuality. As for caring about public health, your ridiculous comments on donating ‘gay blood’ to third world countries contradict your argument and if read in a certain light could not be only construed as homophobic but also racist, as if people from third world countries do not deserve the same quality of health care.

    It is however a sad truth that these laws are backed by homophobic people such as yourself. Hearsay and inaccuracy feed the fear that ‘gay blood’ is somehow infectious, which is scientifically and morally wrong. Blood supply is at an all-time low in this country since the Swine Flu pandemics – now would you deny a member of your family a pint of safe blood donated from a gay person to save their life? If not, maybe you should take a look in the mirror and ask yourself who is ‘selfish’, ‘narcissistic’ and ‘disgusting.’

    To Trevor C, I fully acknowledge that there are some things that you may not wish to accept. The fact of the matter is that there are certain things that I wouldn’t like to accept about straight culture. Mutual understanding and compromise is key. However, the science is against you on this one. I think there should be barriers in place against all people that pose a risk of HIV-infection but they cannot be raised solely for Gay/Bi-sexual men just because of the connotations of anal sex with their sexuality. Many gay men do not practice anal sex as part of their relationship. HIV/AIDS is not an issue that is only concerned with gay anal sex and blood from LGBT males is perfectly viable – there is no scientific or biological reason that should exclude them.

    Furthermore, and this comment is aimed at Luke Place, the fact that there ‘is no exclusion on gay men who have never had sex with a man nor of women who have sex with women’ is a means of evasion by the government who do not want to be accused of homophobia. It is undercut and ridiculous and the discrimination remains.

    I am absolute on this issue. Show me the scientific evidence that gay/bisexual blood poses a greater risk of HIV/AIDS in comparison to straight/female blood, who are also just as capable of spreading the virus and I will happily revise my opinion. I know however, that no such evidence exists and whilst some people insist on their unfounded bigotry, please do not use it to affect the lives of others.

  • Luke Place
    9 May 2010 at 21:10
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    It’s probably worth pointing out just in case it’s not clear already that I don’t agree with the government line on this, I just thought highlighting their specific justification would be interesting alongside the article.

  • John
    21 June 2010 at 20:05
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