Just this July 1, 2012, China lifted its ban on lesbians donating blood. In 1998, the original ban hindered homosexuals of both genders from giving blood because of fear that sexually active homosexuals would spread HIV and AIDS. After 14 years of having barred from donating blood, lesbians can now finally give the gift of life anytime they want.
Li Yinhe, a sociologist, sexologist and an activist for LGBT rights, said that China’s strict policy about “Whole Blood and Component Donor Selection” requirements started after China learned about AIDS and homosexuality in 1980s. She added that the country easily believed that when you are a homosexual, you automatically have AIDS. Not enough public information distribution on homosexuality and AIDS are the reasons why all homosexuals are banned or not allowed to give blood donations.
Another prominent lesbian rights activist, Xu Bin, applauded the amendment because it means a lot for all the lesbians in China. “It is also about our dignity and the elimination of blood donation discrimination,” Xu Bin added. She said that AIDS is caused by improper sexual behavior, and not by one’s homosexual identity.
The new policy about donating blood includes a number of other changes, including raising the age limit to 60, increasing the donated amount from 200 ml to 400 ml, and reducing the required period of time between donations.
However, this ban still applies to gay men or MSM (men who have sex with men). While lesbians have acquired the liberty to give blood and save lives, sexually active gay men are still deferred from doing this noble act. But there’s an exemption: According to Ministry of Health, Celibate homosexuals are allowed to donate blood.
The ban of homosexual blood donors started in the late 1970s when HIV was getting into the nation’s blood supply. Hemophiliacs who received blood transfusions started showing symptoms of AIDS. Since that time, there wasn’t a test that could detect the presence of HIV in donated blood, they decided to ban gay men from donating blood because a number of gay men were affected by the virus.
To eradicate risk, the Food and Drug Administration added a screening question to the federal guidelines. The FDA considers the year 1977 as the start of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, so blood banks were told to ask male donors if they had had oral or anal sex with a man since 1977, even just once. If the potential donor replied “yes”, he would not be allowed to donate blood for ever.
Among those who are forbidden to give blood are gay couples in monogamous relationships and men who had a gay sex in the 1960s. Even celibate gay and bisexual men are prohibited from donating blood. The worse news is, even if people from these groups proved to be HIV negative in their blood tests, they are still banned from giving blood for the rest of their life.
In September 2011, the United Kingdom has lifted its long-time ban on accepting gay blood donors. Men who have sex with men are allowed to donate blood as long as they have had not any sexual contact with the same sex within the last twelve months. This change of policy took place after a study by Advisory committee on Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO) concluded that a permanent ban might breach equality legislation. The modified regulations were approved and applied in Wales, England and Scotland.
With this decision, U.K joined other developed countries like Italy, Spain, France, Japan, New Zealand and Australia in allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood. But each country varies in their restrictions. Some countries require sexually active gay men to wait a year before donating blood, while some have deferral periods of six months or five years. There are also countries whose regulations focus on potential donor’s risky sexual behavior and not on their sexual orientation.
A number of other countries have amended the rules in terms of homosexual blood donation, but USA remains immovable in their stand regarding this sensitive issue. In USA, men who have sex with men are still not allowed to give blood, which increases the tension on discrimination issues. Some experts in the field of blood safety and gay activists want the policy to be changed to at least one year deferral just like in United Kingdom.
Luckily for the LGBT group, they are not alone in this quest. Some US politicians are backing the lifting of this long-standing ban. In June 2012, Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts led a group of 64 US legislators and sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services that appeals to put an end to the decades-old ban, a ban that has scarred the dignity and reputation of homosexuals.
Quigley said that the ban is turning away 50,000 healthy men who want to give blood. “A straight person who has unsafe sex with multiple partners can give blood, and that creates a greater risk than a gay person in a monogamous relationship,” the Congressman told CNN.
Former chair of the US government advisory panel on blood donation, Dr. Arthur Caplan, also supported the lifting of the ban. “Letting gay men give blood could help bolster the supply. At one time, long ago, the gay-blood ban may have made sense. But it no longer does,” Caplan said.
The American Red Cross has been very vocal about blood shortages in the country. They have been tirelessly holding blood drives across cities and are urging people to roll up their sleeves to fight blood shortage. In fact, for June 2012, the American Red Cross said that nationwide blood donations dropped 50,000 units compared to the same time last year.
50,000 units is a lot to think and a lot to lose. Donations are much fewer this season because most people are busy with their summer plans and setting a blood letting appointment is rarely included in their list. Adding to the pressing threat of blood shortage is the fact that the gay community cannot offer the gift of life even if they are eligible to donate.
The ban is considered homophobic and not objective to begin with. For example, a gay man who practices safe sex and has oral sex with a monogamous partner is instantly removed from the donor pool, while a heterosexual man who has multiple partners and does not practice safe sex can donate blood.
Definitely, the deferral of homosexual blood donors in the USA has taken a toll in the nation’s blood supply. The rule has to be amended as soon as possible if the country wants the supply to meet the demand. If the USA would just learn to adjust with the changing times, perhaps the fear of blood shortage would be far from reality.
The ban has not only imposed discrimination among the gay community, it also brands them as a threat to public health. Even if healthy gay men want to donate blood, society has already labeled them as dirty and sick. Considering the number of gay men in USA, the ban overlooks the potential number of blood donors helps keep up with the nation’s demand for blood supply. If USA won’t amend the rules about homosexual blood donation, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to us if American Red Cross and other blood banks would be crying for blood shortage apocalypse.
Developed countries like Australia, France, UK and Japan has already taken a stand on homosexual blood donation. Seriously, United States need to think about this and make a decision to alter its blood donation policies before it’s too late. If proven credible and eligible, homosexual men can step out in the open and roll up their sleeves with chins raised high. After all, gay men have the right to be heroes too.
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