Two weeks ago today, I went down to give blood for the Red Cross. When I did so, I was a little worried that any of a number of issues might have prevented me from being able to donate – my blood pressure is high (but not too high for that), I’m on several prescriptions (none of them issues, it turns out), etc. But I didn’t really expect one thing to be on the list.
Quoting from the Red Cross’ donor eligibility page…
“You should not give blood if you have AIDS or have ever had a positive HIV test, or if you have done something that puts you at risk for becoming infected with HIV.”
Well, fair enough, makes plenty of sense there, you’re thinking. But then we read on….
“You are at risk for getting infected if you…are a male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977.”
There are a lot of things on the list, but that one flashed out at me with big, bright, neon lights. Now, I wasn’t disqualified by that criteria, but a hell of a lot of my friends would be. And why? Pure homophobia.
Now, some of you might be thinking that it’s not pure homophobia – HIV is more common in the gay community, so it makes sense. Well, no, it doesn’t… and here’s why.
- HIV isn’t a ‘gay problem.’ It’s potentially a problem with all sexual contact. Having sex with a man isn’t a risk factor – it’s having unsafe sex with anybody who might be infected, and just about anybody could be infected. They’ve picked it up in the gay community, the straight community, even in the virginal community… so given that, singling out only one of those groups is blatantly discriminatory.
- Even if we do make the assumption that HIV is sufficiently more common in the gay community to justify this ban, infection can be prevented through safer sex techniques. But using them doesn’t matter to the Red Cross, despite the fact that somebody who uses condoms properly could practically eliminate their risk factor.
- Within 6 months of infection, HIV can be detected. So, even at the most paranoid, you could make this one of your “in the last 6 months” bans, rather than a blanket ban. The Red Cross tests their donors for HIV (among other things) anyways, just in case somebody’s lying (or, oh, I don’t know, falls into the category of ‘people who have it who weren’t part of the communities we ban’), so if you haven’t been potentially exposed in the last 6 months, they’ll know if you’re clean or not.
So, what do we have here? The Red Cross is – I have to think consciously – excluding a very large community of potential donors for no more reason than homophobia. If they wanted to be sure that they excluded anybody with HIV, they’d have to ban anybody who’s had sexual contact with anybody in the last 6 months. If they only wanted to be reasonably certain, they’d have to exclude anybody who’s had unsafe sexual contact with a partner who hasn’t been tested at least 6 months after their last possible exposure.
And yet, I could go out to a bar and hook up with a different woman each night for the week before I donate, and as long as I didn’t pay her for the privilege, they’d take me. On the other hand, if I did a little safe experimentation in college 3 years ago – or 30 years ago – I’m banned, even though they can test my blood and find out whether or not I’m infected.
What’s wrong with this picture?