by HAYDEN NICHOLS
The campaign to allow men who have sex with men to donate blood has started to gain traction over the past few months; however, many people still do not know about this discriminatory law in Australia. While the move for marriage equality is important, it is necessary that the LGBTI community does not weaken its pressure on the Government to achieve equality in other areas. The campaign against a discriminatory blood donation system, is but one campaign that our community needs to not only be aware of, but to stand alongside.
The Australian Red Cross Blood Service, responsible for collecting blood donations, explain on their website the eligibility of men who have sex with men. The page asks whether the potential donor has, within the last twelve months, had “oral or anal sex with another man, even ‘safer sex’ using a condom (if you are a man)”. If the potential donor answers ‘yes’ to this question they are advised that they are not eligible to donate blood. Whilst there are several other eligibility criteria on this page, this question is the focus of a campaign to stop the ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood.
It should be said that not only does the above question discriminate against the LGBTI community, it completely undermines and dismisses the idea of ‘safe sex’. In another statement on their page, the Blood Service acknowledges the importance of safe sex to the prevention of HIV, but says that due to these practices not being 100% effective the ban is necessary and that the Blood Service guidelines on this matter are targeted at population groups that have higher rates of infection, i.e., the LGBTI community.
A group called Homoglobin has been set up by Australians wanting to have their say on the current 12-month ban for men who have sex with men wanting to donate blood. This group claims that the Blood Service gives “no hope in Australia for a gay male [sic]” in donating blood, as it is seen as easier to ban all of a minority group without allowing for testing for HIV and other related conditions. The Blood Service clearly, in its complete ban, fails to recognise that safe gay men exist whether they be people living in long-term monogamous relationships. or individuals who always wear condoms when engaging in sexual activities – and are 100 per cent HIV negative. The Homoglobin campaign “End the Gay Blood Ban” argues that people who are HIV-negative should be able to donate as much blood as they can because their blood does not contain any higher risk than any other person’s blood.
It is this campaign that the Queer Collective on campus should be getting behind and supporting to ensure that not only all members of society can donate blood but also to start raising more awareness of HIV and AIDS and to break the stigma surrounding these conditions. This is made even more important for the Queer Collective considering the University of Newcastle sees the Blood Service collect blood on campus on a regular basis. This year it is vital that the Queer Collective comes together to discuss its stance on this issue. The Collective in the past, has remained relatively apolitical on many LGBTIQA issues that have arisen both nationally and locally on campus, this must stop.
The only way for LGBTI students on campus to University management know of our concerns is to be vocal, to stand in solidarity with our entire community and fight, not only for gay men’s rights, but for women’s right, transgender and gender diverse people’s rights and for the rights of the entire LGBTI community. It is this that I, as Queer Convenor, must ensure for this year and look forward to working with the Collective in ensuring that we have regular campaigns to support our entire community.
Hayden Nichols is a fourth-year Social Science student and the NUSA Queer Convener. More information about the Queer Collective can be found at www.nusa.org.au/queer