The Christmas and New Year period are inevitably some of the busiest for emergency wards around the country. The combination of large numbers of people travelling and the silliness that inevitably accompanies the silly season leads to accidents.
When people have accidents they need blood.
I happen to be a universal donor, O negative. Yet I’ve never been able to donate for my adult life for one simple reason. I am a gay man. And it’s time we updated our rules to be more accommodating to gay, male, blood donors.
One of the quirks of being a gay man is how normal it is to be treated as if you are dirty and tainted. Some of this is bound up with religious bigotry, but some is sourced in paranoia and fear born during the AIDs crisis in the 1980s. One of the things that’s rarely discussed is the complete failure of health authorities, and politicians to recognise the threat HIV posed early on: it was considered quite hilarious by Ronald Reagan’s press secretary.
Today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA, one of those health authorities that was late to act, reversed a hangover from that terrible time, changing their blanket ban on gay men donating blood.
The ban was implemented during the AIDs hysteria at the height of the epidemic in 1983, when there weren’t accurate tests for HIV and people still thought you could catch it from toilet seats. It stipulated that if a man had had sex with another man after 1977 they could never donate blood. Now any man who has abstained from male to male sex for the past 12 months may donate, which is also the position here in Australia.
While the recognition that gay men are not innately tainted is a swell switch, the change is fundamentally cosmetic: the emperor may not be naked anymore but all he’s done is put on some socks. To donate blood gay men must entirely abstain from sex for a year, even if they’re in a monogamous relationship, use condoms, and regularly get tested for STIs.
This brings the USA’s blood donation policy into line with Catholic and Evangelical Christianity, which both declare that they’re fine with gay people, provided they don’t actually do gay things.