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.