Blood. It’s something we all take for granted because the only time we see it is when its drawn from the skin, either through a cut or needle. A few nights ago, I was exerting my customary rounds on social media before bed when I noticed an advertisement urging people to come forward and donate their blood. Many of my friends and colleagues have donated blood in the past, and continue to do so, describing how immense they felt afterwards knowing that their blood could potentially save a life.
As a gay man, I knew there were complications around me donating my blood, but I was unsure as to whether the prehistoric rules were still applicable. I made the decision that I wanted to donate, after all – what’s thirty minutes out of my week in return for the pleasure of knowing I’m doing something good? I revisited the link and registered online, the entire process was surprisingly quick and required minimal effort. I reached the eligibility questionnaire, and to my amazement, I was informed that my blood donation would be accepted and there were several clinics in my local area willing to take my donation. A little more poking around, however, and I was finally given a solid answer.
“We can’t collect blood from men who have had oral or anal sex with men, with or without protection, in the last 3 months.” - NHS Blood and Transplant
The same goes for sexually active, heterosexual men, right? Wrong! In other words, men who engage in sexual acts with other men must abstain for three months before they are even considered for a blood donation. The UK’s explanation for this is simple; gay and bisexual men who have sex with other men are considered a ‘higher risk’, in terms of contracting and distributing bloodborne viruses, than any other group. As a precautionary measure, a three-month waiting period is in place to prevent this group of men from donating because they might have infected blood.
Last year, the waiting period was twelve months, so reducing it to three is a big step forward, right? Nope, not really. It’s a cleverly designed process to mask the true homophobic intentions by claiming it’s medically essential that men, like myself, are denied the right to play a part in saving someone’s life. The ‘rigorous’ screening process, however, is imperative and completely justified – the transmission of infected blood is extremely unsafe and life-threatening. How is it justified though, that your smooth, heterosexual-playboy who gets laid every night of the week can donate his blood; whereas I, a careful gay man who regularly attends a full STD screening, cannot. It does not make sense.
Perhaps I’m taking it to heart, but if I were to take a different scenario and apply a similar context, what would be the response? This sentence, for example: “All Muslims are radicals – all radicals are terrorists, ergo – all Muslims are radical terrorists”. Shall I demonstrate how ridiculously erroneous and foolish that statement is? I’m going to anyway. The likelihood of you being killed in a terrorist attack, at the hands of a jihadist, are around 1 in 2.64 million. You’re more likely to be hit by a car, drown, be struck by lightning – and still have room to die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, than be killed in a jihadist terrorist attack. The point I’m making is that persecuting an entire population for the acts of just a few is a scapegoat used by people who are ignorant, and quite frankly, stupid.
“All men who have sex with other men are promiscuous – promiscuity leads to STDs, ergo – all men who have sex with other men have STDs.” The simple fact is: it’s not true – it’s far from the truth. I can’t comprehend how backwards we still are in the UK, as a developed country that supposedly progresses forward; the idea that sexually active gay and bisexual men shouldn’t be allowed to donate blood only demonises us further. To be subjected to years of marginalisation at the hands of policymakers for the sake of excluding a few hundred-thousand people ‘just-in-case’ is outrageous, especially in 2018. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy about it being reduced from twelve months to three, I’m not happy that I still cannot donate because of my sexuality.