OPINION: Blood donation policies unfairly stigmatise men who have sex with men

by RJ Arkhipov | Blood and Radical Politics
Friday, 14 June 2019 08:49 GMT

Alexandre Capt donates his blood at a branch of the Interregional Transfusion CRS in Epalinges, Switzerland June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The evidence is that there is no significantly increased risk of gay blood donors passing on HIV

RJ Arkhipov is the author of “Visceral: The Poetry of Blood” and co-convenor of the Blood and Radical Politics research network

In around two weeks’ time, glitter will shower the streets of London. Rainbow flags will wave in the wind and raucous laughter will echo through the labyrinthine roads of Soho. Onlookers to the spectacle would be forgiven for thinking that Pride was a party, and not a protest.

And yet, as we near the 50-year anniversary of the uprising in Greenwich Village that gave way to the modern-day Pride movement, many take for granted the blood spilled in exchange for our rights.

Our community should celebrate. Pride is, among other things, a day for diversity to shine. Beyond the conspicuous expressions of corporate social responsibility, however, the fight for the furtherance of our rights must continue.

Only a week ago in the English capital, two women were violently attacked in a homophobic incident on a bus. Most of the hate crimes or incidents experienced by one in five LGBT+ people in the last year because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, however, go unreported both to the police and by the press.

In recent years, we have been witness to some truly appalling attacks on our community.

Three years ago this week, we awoke to the terrible news of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. In the days that followed, the names and faces of the gunman’s victims filled the pages of our newspapers. Those who had survived the mass shooting were taken to local hospitals and overwhelmed by unprecedented numbers of patients; blood banks made public appeals for donations.

Among those turning up to donate were the local gay men whose friends had either fallen in the attack or else were either fighting for their lives in hospital. And yet, the Food and Drug Administration’s policy prohibited many sexually active gay and bisexual men, from giving their much-needed blood in the days which followed.

In the United States, as in Britain and much of Europe, gay men are still prevented from freely donating their blood as a result of outdated health department policy stances. Unlike heterosexuals, in the U.S., men who have sex with men are not allowed to donate blood if they have had sex in the past 12 months.

June is an important month for the LGBT+ community. It is a time for us to reflect on our history and our rights and march for their preservation and promotion in the many Pride parades taking place across the world in and around June 28. Two weeks earlier, on June 14, the United Nations observes World Blood Donor Day, an international occasion to recognise “voluntary, unpaid blood donors for their life-saving gifts of blood and also to raise awareness of the need for regular blood donations”.

NHS Blood and Transplant requires nearly 400 new donors a day to meet demand and with homophobic attacks in the UK surging, it is important now more than ever for the UK government to reconsider its outdated policy of prohibiting men who have had sex with another man in the past three months from giving blood, even when that sexual encounter was with protection or with a long-term, monogamous partner.

Recipients of transfusions have a right to safe blood, but policies concerning donations should be fair and spare no effort to avoid stoking the already harmful stigmas faced by gay men.

With an individualised risk-based assessment, we could join the list of countries including Argentina, Italy and even Russia, that recognise the evidence that there is no significantly increased risk of transfusion-transmitted HIV from gay blood donors.