Why we shouldn’t ignore the ban on blood donation

Photo: Ulleskelf (via Flickr)

Photo: Ulleskelf (via Flickr)

It’s not uncommon for the media to be reporting on how the National Blood Service are pleading for new blood donors.

So many places across the UK are suffering from a shortage of people who are willing to regularly donate their blood.

According to a recent BBC feature, the demand for blood donations could only be attained to if around 225,000 new donors signed up every single year, replacing the ones who “drop off” the register. As well as this, 2012 saw a 50% drop in the number of 17-18 year olds signing up to donate.

So what is the issue, and why are people not donating? It’s hardly difficult to do so, after all. As long as you’re not infected, taking any antibiotics, have been in the country for at least the last 6 months, don’t have any heart problems, haven’t been to the dentist in the last week and don’t have any recent tattoo’s or piercings, then it would seem that you’re good to go.

But it’s more complicated than that. If you scratch the surface, you’ll see the real issue stands with the gay community.

If you’re male and have had sex with a man (if you’re MSM, as it’s often called) within the last year, you can’t donate blood. It doesn’t matter what type of sex. Oral, anal, with or without a condom. If you’ve done any of this, you’re automatically ruled out.

This is all because of HIV.

HIV is an illness that slowly destroys a persons immune system. It can be transmitted from person to person sexually, from a mother to a baby, and also through blood transfusion.

Whilst a hefty percentage of those suffering from the illness are thought to be MSM, it can develop in any sexually active person who does the deed without using a condom. Studies have found it’s more likely to be transmitted through anal rather than vaginal penetration, which kind of explains why all the medical boffs think MSM folk should be banned from donating. But what you have to consider is that men can and do have anal sex with women. It’s never just been the ‘gay alternative’ that so many people seem to see it as. But are they banned? No, of course they aren’t.

Stereotypes are being played on to a point that is almost homophobic. I mean, surely they could just ask whether you have HIV? Surely they could do tests on you and your blood so they can tell, rather than saying ‘oh, you’re gay, bye.’ Because that is effectively what they’re doing. It’s a hefty amount of naivety and a drop of homophobia embedded into an ancient book of stereotypes.

I for one would be completely eligible to donate blood if I wasn’t gay. I meet all of their other requirements as I write this post, living a healthy as possible life. But I can’t donate blood, and don’t see myself being able to do so any time soon. Unless, of course, things change.

When they added the new deferral period in 2o11, meaning if you’re male and haven’t slept with a guy for 12 months then you CAN donate, they seemed to think they’d found the perfect solution or a wonderful compromise. But it’s still not fair. Because anyone who isn’t MSM can waltz around shagging whoever the fuck they like and then donate providing they’re still healthy. It’s fair to say that people like that are probably a higher risk. But they don’t have a deferral period, they don’t have to be celibate for 12 months. They could probably have sex with someone the night before their donation and the people taking their blood wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

It’s a complete echo of things that have been made illegal in the past, a total form of segregation. They’re putting huge, mammoth sized barriers between the straight and LGBT communities. Yes, there have been a few good things happen to the gay community recently. But total equality cannot ever be achieved when age-old ideas like this are still being indoctrinated into the systems we rely on so much and made to look like fact.

Because  this law seems to suggest that every man who’s engaged in MSM has HIV, doesn’t it? Think about it. They can’t donate because of the risk of HIV, so surely they have it? Of course this isn’t the case. But if the ban focused solely on ANYONE with HIV, we’d be in a much better place and a heavy mixture of people from every sexuality would be donating.

For anyone who is always safe in the bedroom department – the National Blood Service need to think twice. They need to see that so, so many healthy sexually active gay men are out there just waiting to give their blood to people who so desperately need it. As with so many other things, sexual orientation should not matter at all when it comes to this.

I strongly believe and am hugely passionate about equality in blood donation. Because in reality, the National Blood Service are the only real hindrance on their own failed blood drives. If they saw sense and made the rules more equal, they’d probably get quite a lot more blood donated to them.

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