Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gay Blood Donations Ban Upheld in U.S.

     The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services voted to continue its unscientific and homophobic Reagan-era ban on gay men's blood donations.  In a 9-6 vote, the committee decided to keep the ban of any blood donations from men who have had sex at least one with another man since 1977.  So, if you've ever wondered why Father Fitzgibbons and Pastor Lovejoy aren't lining up at the parish blood drive, now you know why. 

     On Wednesday a group of legislators, led by Massachusetts senator John Kerry and Illinois representative Mike Quigley, issued a joint statement in support for amending the ban.
     "There is no prescribed consideration of safer sex practices," the lawmakers argued. "Individuals who routinely practice unsafe heterosexual sex face no deferral period at all, while monogamous and married homosexual partners who practice safe sex are banned for life," Kerry and his colleagues wrote to officials.
     Addressing the committee on Thursday, Kerry said he was joined by the nation's largest blood-banking organizations in opposition to the current policy. The American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks, and America’s Blood Centers have all blasted the policy as “scientifically and medically unwarranted.”
     "This is a discussion with real social significance for gay men," Kerry said before the committee. "They are clearly the target of this policy, which was initiated in the early '80s, when little was known about HIV/AIDS, except that gay men seemed to be contracting it almost exclusively. Today, this lingering policy carries with it a social stigma for this population that is still engaged in battles for civil rights on a whole array of fronts."
     So, who's blood would you rather have in a transfusion?

     1.  A heterosexual IV drug user that learned to shoot up with his mother when he was fourteen and shared needles consistently (he rinsed them out with water because his mother said that was good enough), but after he moved out at eighteen, kicked the habit, and now, at twenty-one has yet to have an HIV test because only those queers get AIDS.

     2.  A heterosexual and churchgoing Catholic woman in her late forties, who had a hysterectomy in her early thirties and has been having unprotected sex with her husband (who screws around on business trips) and secretly with two other other men (her husband's best friend and a co-worker at Catholic Charities) and doesn't use condoms because she can't get pregnant, and well, because Catholics can't use condoms.

     3.  A straight man, in his late fifties, who's married, and has unprotected sex with his wife, who he trusts is monogamous.  He's monogamous, or at least he has been for the past ten years after one of his younger mistresses got pregnant.  Since he only did it with women, he couldn't possibly have HIV, right?

     4.  A priest, who is forced to give blood in the parish blood drive because it will make a great PR moment for the local paper, who lies when asked by the phlebotomist about having had sex with a man since 1977 because it's none of her business nor is it the business of the twenty parishioners gathered around to watch father get pricked.  Swallowing down a panic attack, father goes through with the blood donation.  He loses sleep for weeks, worrying that he might have AIDS, but he's too frightened to get tested, to be stigmatized.  It's better to just let go and let god.  After his guilt dissipates, he makes his occasional "retreat" into the big city's gay district for a weekend of anonymous pleasures.

     5.  A single gay man, who uses condoms when having anal sex, which isn't all that often and  much less so than the media and religious homophobes scare people into believing.  He's only had anal sex with six or seven different men and always safe, except for that one time twenty years ago.  Since then, he prefers oral sex, cuddling, massage, and kissing, you know, behaviors that don't put him at risk for HIV, and has had only protected anal sex occasionally.  Aware of and educated about STIs and HIV, he responsibly gets tested for HIV every three months and for the remaining barrage of STIs every six months.  He knows that he's negative on all counts.

     6.  A gay man, who is in a monogamous relationship for five years.  Both he and his partner had all their tests, first when they started dating and again after six months of being monogamous.  They are both HIV-negative.

      Examples 1, 2, 3, and 4, could all give blood under current regulations.  The honest gay men, 5 and 6, could not.  

     I am a trained HIV test counselor, who in my last job gave HIV tests as part of my duties.  I can tell you that of these five examples, numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 are all at high risk for having been exposed to HIV and need HIV tests.  #5 is at extremely low risk, so much so that he would be counseled to only come back for an HIV test if he had an anal sexual encounter in which he didn't use a condom or if he was worried the condom broke.  #6 is not at risk, period.

    These examples show how our government's gay blood ban is ridiculous and serves no purpose other than to continue to marginalize and discriminate gay men and to scapegoat them for the AIDS epidemic.  There is no scientific basis for this ban.