Donate Blood: Apparently, gay men are toxic to public health
I am the first to admit to being a health freak. My personal belief is that if you want a long and happy life, you should put the hard work in. That is why I no longer eat red meat, exercise regularly, religiously drink water and check my diet to ensure that it is always balanced. I also believe that many men are dying because they are afraid to go to the doctor and ask if there is anything wrong with them. That is why I always make sure that I never miss my regular check-ups. So far things have been very good. My blood work is exceptional and I have been encouraged by the clinician to donate blood.
Donating blood was not something I paid much attention to. Somehow I never thought about what might happen if I was involved in an accident. My boyfriend of 3 years is very active in the LGBT movement and told me that there was not a chance they would ever accept my blood. Apparently, all gays have been banned from donating blood because they pose a public health risk. It seems that the health professionals have made a judgment that all of us will catch HIV and hepatitis in our lifetime before passing it on to an unsuspecting straight population. How disgusting is that? Aargh.
Anyway, I decided to find out what was really happening on the ground, so to speak. There was an advert for blood donors and I am a universal donor so by logic, I would be a great candidate. The careful tests that they do these days would show any problem. When I offered, there was a disclaimer form which included carefully constructed questions that were looking for one answer…was I a “gay” in my past, present or even future life? Like the proud out man that I am, I told them the score. I was gay and had been gay all my life. There was a look of pained regret on the face of the clinician. “Sorry, the rules do not allow us to accept donations from men who have sex with men”. Men, who have sex with men? Are you kidding me?
A Historical Injustice That Refuses to Go Away
It all started with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Early in the 1980s, doctors started realizing that men otherwise healthy young men were suffering from strange diseases that were thought to be associated with immune suppression. That marked the beginning of a long nightmare with HIV. The people who lived during that time could be forgiven for their instinctive prejudice. The disease was just so frightening that everyone wanted to stay away from it. The fact that the first victims were gay meant that our community got stuck with the disease. At one point they even called it a “Gay Cancer”. The cruel implication was that the people that were netted by this horrendous disease were actually deserving of their fate. Indeed, some religious leaders shamefully suggested that the disease was divine retribution to our modern Sodom. We were the filthy sodomites that had brought an abomination on mankind.
The US government at the time irresponsibly ignored the problem until some straight wealthy people started catching it. Suddenly, help started trickling through. Those of us who were alive at the time have very painful memories of that era. Our fellow Americans had left us to die in the most horrific circumstances. They only changed the tune when other members of the community started suffering too. That is when the policy of not allowing LGBT people to donate blood started. At the time, it made perfect sense. The community that was most affected were young gay men. Nobody was very clear about what the disease was and how it could be spread at first. More importantly, we did not know how it could not be spread.
Therefore, it made perfect sense to be cautious in order to protect the public. The policy was duly enacted. Then science started to look more into the disease. There were tests that could tell whether or not blood was infected. These tests were later refined to the extent that they could actually check the DNA of the person to find out whether they had been exposed to the virus. Still, the policy remained, perhaps justified by the fact that we’re learning new things about the disease. The last thing we wanted to do was to turn round and say “oops” because we had failed to take the necessary precautions.
Three Decades Later, We Are stuck
I cannot for the life of me understand why in 2018, a good 40 years since the first reported incidents of HIV/AIDS we are still treating this as if it were an exclusively “gay disease”. Despite all the advances in technology, we are still denying perfectly healthy LGBT people the opportunity to donate blood and yet we keep decrying the lack of blood products. The same federal government that is now showing such concern for public safety was the one that distributed tainted blood products to hemophiliacs. It is the government that has been associated with the mad cow disease scandal and which routinely sends young people to die in war zones.
I am open to persuasion but at the moment I leaning towards believing that this nothing more than a case of good old-fashioned prejudice. The one-drop rule is still well and alive…but this time relating to the LGBT community. Once you are deemed to be an MSM (Men Who Have Sex with Men), the writing is on the wall as far as blood donation is concerned. You could end up poisoning the entire blood pool. Of course, those that continue to implement this policy fail to recognize that there are millions of non-LGBT people that have been affected by HIV. Indeed, the vast majority of new infections come from “straight” communities.
That silly ineffective interview is one of the worst cases of public waste. It basically calls for someone to self-identify as a potential victim of discrimination so that the person that is doing the negative discrimination can discriminate against the respondent. There is absolutely nothing stopping the respondent from lying about their sexuality or even sexual history. Those that are in the closet would have no problem saying that they were straight despite them knowing privately otherwise. Indeed, we are lucky that there is no sufficiently robust “gay test” which could be relied on by these hapless clinicians.
HIV/AIDS is a Global Issue and We Must Tackle it Together
Stubbornly continuing with these old prejudices is never going to solve the problem. We all know that HIV/AIDS is a global problem that calls for global solutions. If one community is being ostracized or even marginalized, we should not be surprised when that community turns around and begins to fight back. The lessons we learned from the early stigma of HIV is that the prejudice tended to drive people underground. They would be fearful of attracting medical attention. Some of them were in such denial that they would end up infecting their partners just to prove that they were not different.
We have the science to test for HIV. The more sensible approach would be to use that science rather than denying LGBT people that opportunity to contribute towards covering the blood shortages in our hospitals. I actually had a lengthy conversion with the clinician that worked on me and he said that he disagreed with the policy. From his experience, there were many people that had come through the system and were “obviously gay” but claimed to be straight in order to donate. There was no way of really telling them apart of justifiably turning them away. Those that lied could get away with it in this way. Instead, the honest ones that admitted to being gay were being thrown out.
The clinician told me that in all his years doing bloodwork, he had ever received a tainted sample. Normally people who donated first tested themselves so that they did not get any nasty surprises when they came to donate. The blood shortages were getting more critical but they were not getting many willing donors because of the restrictions. Some people could not bring themselves to tell a significant lie about their sexual history just so that they could donate blood. Instead, the hospitals were being left with very limited options.
Donate Blood: Is There a Future of Gay Blood Donors?
The attitudes have definitely changed and it is only the policy framework that is pending. Hopefully, a time will come when LGBT blood donations are no longer an issue. I think that it may even become the case that “tainted” blood can be cleaned so that it is safe for use. Who knows? About 40 years ago HIV was a death sentence but people are now living with the condition for years. It stands to reason that science will continue to educate and equip us, even though our prejudices sometimes prevent us from using science properly.