On the 6th of December, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service will come to UCC for its annual blood drive. At this time, LGBT students and the Students Union, using recently outed and former poster boy of the IBTS, Westlife member Mark Feehily as their own poster boy, will begin an awareness campaign to draw attention to their outdated and discriminatory policy of refusing blood from gay men. The campaign is a peaceful one and does not want to interfere with the very important business of the IBTS. In fact, it is precisely because of the importance of blood donation that the campaign hopes to change IBTS policy.
The lifetime ban on donation from gay men stems from an emergency policy at the height of the AIDS panic around 1985 when the FDA in America imposed a blanket ban on gay men giving blood. At the time, procedures for screening HIV looked for antibodies for the virus, which could take weeks of months to develop. Policymakers had worried
that during this window, HIV-tainted blood could go through the screening process undetected. Today, there are superior testing procedures so that the window from infection to detection has been cut to 10 days. This means that if blood is donated 10 days after a possibility of infection, there is no reason to refuse the blood. According to the IBTS, they “test every donation received for a number of diseases”, including Hep B, HIV and Hep C. Based on this, there is
no reason for a blanket ban on ‘men who have ever had sex with men’.
The IBTS tries to excuse their discriminatory policy by pointing out that because a HIV emergency originated from the gay community in the 80’s, it is possible that a new, unforeseen disease may emerge in the future by the same route. This argument is clearly flawed: a new disease may emerge from any source, whether or not it has in the past. It is this attitude which is homophobic. The IBTS excludes someone based on their sexuality and because eventually they may be prone to some new, unknown virus. This is highly controversial and not a justifiable discrimination.
“Monogamous gay couples in long-term stable relationships, who are tested regularly and have a history of safe sex are barred from donating blood forever, by stark contrast, and revealing the contradictory values of the IBTS, the same policy allows a single heterosexual to have many partners and who doesn’t practice safe sex to donate blood” This awareness campaign is asking the IBTS to re-examine their policy and allow healthy and safe people to donate.
The fact is there is no appropriate reason to refuse the blood of gay men on such blanket terms. LGBT Auditor Diarmuid Angland says “Double standards are at play and the reasons the IBTS gives for this are not in touch with modern day studies”. And considering the current blood supply crisis, there can be no justification for needlessly turning away blood like this. The Swedish Prime Minister is now the first world leader to call for a review of the blood ban and we applaud this progressive call to keep in step with the times. Let us not forget that any man need only have had sex with another man once in his whole life for this ban to be effective. So what we are calling for in our campaign is a review of IBTS policy. A cautious measure we would like to suggest is to impose a ban on anyone giving blood a year after engaging in risky behavior. UCC LGBT have produced a document in relation to this matter which is entitled “Give Blood because we Cant”, which is also the name of the campaign, if you would like to learn more about this matter they can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Gay blood is safe blood and gay people are healthy people. This must be recognized. Lives are in the balance.