UK Bloody Bigots: The National Blood Service Claims It Wants to Protect Patients From HIV, But Its Indiscriminate Ban on Gay Donors Is Flawed
Bloody Bigots: The National Blood Service claims it wants to protect patients from HIV, but its indiscriminate ban on gay donors is flawed.
By Peter Tatchell
It is World AIDS Day and many gay people overseas are donating blood. Encouraged to donate by their national blood services, they are doing their civic duty, alongside their heterosexual families and friends, to help ensure that there are plentiful blood supplies for patients and accident victims who need emergency transfusions.
But this is not happening in the UK. Gay blood has been officially declared queer, tainted and a menace to the health of the nation. Gay and bisexual men are banned as blood donors by the National Blood Service (NBS).
We all now carry the mark of the HIV ‘Anti-Christ’. Every single same-sexer in Britain is categorised by the NBS as a potential purveyor of death and destruction. We are all reckless liars, who can never be trusted to behave with sexual responsibility or to tell the truth about our sexual history and HIV risk factors. Every last one of us – including gay doctors, priests and HIV educators – are prohibited from giving blood, now and forever.
This NBS ban applies to all men who have had oral or anal sex with another man, at any point in their life – even just once with a condom. It has introduced this catch-all ban in the name of protecting the blood supply from contamination with HIV. This is a laudable aim but the indiscriminate gay ban is an unjustified and flawed way of achieving it.
On the basis that roughly 5% to 10% of the male population is gay or bisexual for all or part of their lives, this policy excludes around one to two million potential blood donors. This is madness at a time when the NBS is crying out for donors to “do some amazing.”
If the NBS is seriously concerned about screening out HIV contaminated blood donations, why is it refusing to test donated blood for the HIV virus? What is its excuse for adopting the cheaper, less safe option of testing for HIV antibodies?
In an infected person, the virus shows up in the blood with a few days, whereas the antibodies can take up to three months to become identifiable. Within this three month period, the antibodies may be present but not detectable. This means that a recently infected person might not be aware of their HIV status. When they donate blood, their blood will be passed as safe by the NBS and be offered for use in transfusions and blood products – potentially infecting dozens of people. This short-sighted policy of only testing for antibodies increases the likelihood of the blood supply becoming infected with HIV.
If the NBS switched to testing directly for the virus this would not only make the blood supply safer, it would also enable an easing of the ban on gay blood, which would boost blood stocks.
Because the HIV virus is manifest in the blood with a few days of infection, it would be feasible for the NBS to introduce a new policy whereby only men who’ve had sex with men in the preceding seven days would be excluded from donating blood. This would significantly increase the pool of available donors.
Already, several countries have ditched or qualified their ban on gay and bisexual blood donors.
Spain and Italy only rule out donations from men who have engaged in risky sexual behaviour. Since these two countries relaxed their policies and allowed more gay men to become donors, the number of people who have become infected via blood donations has more than halved. Experts suggest that this is partly to do with the new emphasis on excluding donations from people who engage in risky sexual behaviour, as opposed to the previous blanket exclusion of entire high risk groups.
An easing of the gay ban has also taken place in Argentina, Australia, Japan and Hungary, where gay and bisexual men are only prohibited from donating blood if they’ve had sex in the last year. A five year deferral on gay donors operates in New Zealand and South Africa. In the UK, the NBS still insists on a lifetime ban.
Oddly, this unscientific, irrational policy is backed by gay-led HIV charities in the UK, such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and Gay Men Fighting Aids.
Now dependant on funding and goodwill from establishment bodies, they have joined the establishment. Unwilling to challenge a blanket ban that is irrational and ignorant, they collude with the NBS’s stereotyped and prejudiced assumptions about gay and bisexual men.
Scientists, doctors, HIV organisations and gay rights campaigners in many other countries take a different view. They say that a total ban on all blood donations from men who have sex with men lacks scientific credibility and medical justification. They are right.
The NBS gay blood ban is based on the ill-informed, homophobic presumption that all gay and bisexual men are “high risk” for HIV, regardless of their individual sexual behaviour. This is nonsense. Most gay men do not have HIV and will never have HIV.
Based on crass generalisations, the NBS policy lumps together all gay and bisexual men, without differentiation, as if we are all the same. We’re not. There is a wide diversity of same-sex behaviours and lifestyles. Some of us are at risk of HIV, and some of us are not. Those who are not at risk should not be excluded from doing “something amazing.”
For information about Peter Tatchell’s campaigns: www.petertatchell.net