Blood bans & disavowal

I’ve shared a fair amount of news about changes in blood donation policies around the world. I think the policies which ban gay and bisexual men from donating are—like HIV-specific criminal laws—outdated and counterproductive, relics of an era of fear and ignorance that should be reformed.

Lifetime, and even most shorter-term, bans are not necessary or justifiable and are based in, and contribute to, bias and stigma against gay and bisexual men. I think screening procedures which assess individual risk rather than membership in “risk groups” are both fairer and more effective.

At the same time, I’ve long been made uneasy by the attitudes and motivations of many of the most active campaigners against these bans. In this perceptive new piece at Dazed & Confused, Sean Faye lays out exactly what disturbs me:

There is a pernicious tone to the rhetoric here. If some gay men feel guilt or shame at the blood deferral – perhaps it is necessary to examine the impulses behind this reaction. Where is the shame coming from? Perhaps it is a dislike for being associated with HIV because of one’s sexual identity. Similarly, asking for exceptions based on marital status has a clear implication – how could people in heteronormative, monogamous partnerships be thrown in as a high-risk group when their sexual behaviour couldn’t possibly mean they are at risk of HIV.

There’s a sexual puritanism to this that, I believe, perpetuates HIV stigma. I have seen it in my own life in discussions with friends about the blood donation deferral. Whenever the topic is raised, friends who believe they’re being right-on will sarcastically say “they don’t want my filthy blood because I’m gay”. What masquerades as righteous anger in fact has dangerous and stigmatising implications – the subtext is “that’s ridiculous, I believe I am HIV negative – as is everyone else in this room – and our blood is clean.” Not only could this read as a reinforcement of the prejudice that HIV positive people are “dirty” – it’s a form of respectability politics, an assertion that the speaker themselves should not be associated with HIV.

The whole thing is worth a read.

New blood donation policies in Europe

In the last couple of weeks two more European countries have announced plans to change their blood donation policies for gay and bisexual men. The Netherlands has modified the lifetime ban on men who’ve had sex with men to a 12-month ban, while France is pursuing a multi-stage approach that should eventually arrive at a policy that will treat people equally regardless of the sex of their sexual partners.

Continue reading New blood donation policies in Europe

Let’s start with some good news…

So after much dithering and delay, here it is: my first post at Chancerville. Hurrah!

Although much of what I post here will be critical and sharp (because there’s a lot to grouse about in Ireland) I’m going to start off with some good news: last month Argentina joined a handful of countries including Spain, Italy, Mexico and Chile when it removed its ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood!

Argentina didn’t just modify the ban by adopting a deferral period—e.g. prohibiting men who have had any kind of sex with another man in the last 12 months, or 5 years, or some other period of time from donating blood—it eliminated it. Instead they’ve adopted a screening procedure that focuses on every individual’s specific risk factors instead of the blunt, outdated, and less-effective approach of “risk groups”.

In the words of Health Minister Daniel Gollán: “What we are doing today is scientifically and technically accurate,” “based on a medical approach that replaces that old concept of ‘risk groups.'”

Here in Ireland any man who has ever had sex with another man is still banned from donating blood.

Ireland’s Minister of Health, Leo Varadkar, has been considering whether to lift or modify the ban on gay blood donation. Regrettably, he’s leaning towards a cautious-to-the-point-of-meaningless 12-month deferral period—a ban in all but name.

One hopes that Argentina’s decision may help nudge Varadkar towards a more sound and science-based standard for Ireland. Indeed, Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin seems to have been inspired by Argentina’s decision and has called for the ban to be lifted in Ireland.

Ó Ríordáin (being the Equality Minister) frames his position as one of equality, and Varadkar (who is himself gay) has gone out of his way to say that he isn’t interested in the equality aspect of the issue, only the science.

Happily Argentina’s example shows that, in the case of blood donation, the science and an opposition to unfair discrimination can lead to the same conclusion.