I wrote a long piece on a webforum before about the IBTS and so I’ll reproduce it here and update it a little:
I’ve taken quotes from the IBTS site and I’ll highlight them and point out the ignorant arguments they put forward for being homophobic:
Q. Why does the IBTS not accept donations from men who have sex with men?
A. In line with all blood transfusion services in the developed world, the IBTS refuses to accept blood donations from men who have had oral or anal sex with another male. This policy was first introduced in the early 1980s when it became apparent that HIV could be spread by blood transfusions, and at a time when gay men represented the largest identifiable source of HIV transmission. The introduction of the ban on gay men was adopted before a test for HIV infection in blood donors was developed, and was very successful in reducing transmission of HIV from transfusions.
Right, so they are confirming that the ban was put in place at a time of panic and before testing. There’s been massive changes since in research and testing but we have 1980s attitudes still at play, but more about this later…
Just for the record there was a very strong case in the states a few years back for lifting the lifetime ban but the Red Cross which is very right wing Christian in America apparently vetoed the lifting despite two major blood donation groups wanting it lifted. Religion is just wonderful at times. I wonder if the ban was lifted in the states would Ireland and the IBTS follow?
This policy causes considerable offence: it is clearly discriminatory against gay men, and categorises all gay men as being at increased risk of HIV; it has also been criticised because it seems to single out gay men to the exclusion of other groups in the community who also have an increased risk of acquiring HIV. In recent years heterosexual females have overtaken IV drug users and homosexual men as the largest group of new HIV cases in Ireland.
The IBTS accepts that they are being discriminatory; we discriminate against several groups in the community insofar as we refuse to allow them to donate blood on the basis of perceived increased risk of spreading infections through blood transfusion. These include anyone who has ever been injected with non-prescribed drugs, anyone who has engaged in sex for which they have been paid with money or drugs, people who have lived in Britain or Northern Ireland between 1980 and 1996 (because of the vCJD risk), people who have been in prison in the previous year, and several other categories.
Right, so they are saying they are discriminating but saying they are doing it for the safety of the population and they do exclude other groups too and have good reason. That almost sounds allowable, doesn’t it ?
But here is where it gets interesting and they catch themselves out:
Q. But what about testing?
A. While the testing currently used by the IBTS is the most sensitive available, no test can reliably detect HIV infection in the first ten days after someone has become infected. This means that a person who donates blood soon after becoming infected with HIV can transmit the infection even if the test for HIV is negative. For this reason all persons who are identifiably at increased risk of HIV are excluded. (Most of the heterosexual females who developed HIV infection in recent years would have been rejected as blood donors on the basis of residency in sub-Saharan Africa or other identifiable risk.)
The window of non-detection is 10 days. After that they can pick it up. So, something like a year ban would be good enough one would think. It isn’t 1980s Kansas anymore Toto, they have more modern and reliable testing methods so that they can check if you have HIV ten days after being exposed to it. You have got to wonder why there is a lifetime ban when they can detect if you have HIV if you were exposed 10 or more days ago.
HIV in the West appeared first among gay men in the eighties and had spread widely in the gay community before the nature of the threat was appreciated or understood. This indicates that men who have sex with men may constitute one route in the future through which a new disease, transmissible by blood transfusions, could find its way into the community before it is detectable. While heterosexual activity also represents a significant route of transmission now, the extensive spread of HIV through heterosexual activity in the West was considerably slower, and occurred predominantly after the disease was understood and methods to prevent its spread had been identified.
And there we have the homophobia. In other words “You people brought us AIDS and who knows what else you might bring in the future. You’re a threat to us. We don’t want your gay blood. ” That’s blatant discrimination.
To exclude someone on their sexuality and because down the line they may be prone to some new unknown virus is highly controversial and just plain wrong. If all Germans were banned from visiting France because in the past *some* of them invaded the country and there is no guarantee that they may not again, there would be outrage and everyone would agree it’s wrong.
Q. Why can’t you evaluate gay men on the same basis as heterosexual people?
A. It is arguable that the total ban on men who have had sex with men should be replaced by exclusion on the basis of activity rather than gender preference. Up to a point the ban is on the basis of activity Â someone who is gay but has never had oral or anal sex with another male is not banned from donating blood.
Nevertheless it is true that the blood transfusion community uses a very blunt approach to the problem Â but at present we know that this approach has been successful in the past, and is likely to provide the best level of protection to patients in the future should a new but similarly insidious form of infection appear again.
Again with the “they could give us another form of AIDS” excuse couple with the fact that what they did worked before so it might work again for these unknowns. So, they’re banning a people for their sexual practices on the basis that they might spread something unknown and to combat people getting this unknown they’ll ban gays from giving blood. It did work before, when they had no clue what the fuck was going on. The blanket ban worked but now testing works. This is like preventing hit and runs by carpet bombing every road. Sure it’ll work, but there has got to be other methods which are just as safe but don’t shun a portion of the population. Also nice use of the word “insidious” there.
Viruses can cause lethal infection with latent periods longer than ten or fifteen years. If a time limit were to be set so that men who had had sex with men in the past could be reinstated as donors after a period of abstinence, then that time limit would likely be very long.
They say “yeah we could allow some people but the ban would be very long.” So, it’s a start, its a sign that you trust us in some small way. Do it.
The United States has recently modified its ban on gay men, to men who have had sex with another male at any time since 1977. This means that gay men are accepted if they have been abstinent throughout the last 26 years. It is possible that the Europeans would consider such a move in the future; however the practical consequences are likely to be minimal.
And here they state that the 26 year time limit is so long they might not get anyone, so they’ll not put it in place. They have no scientific reason for this exclusion so therefore it is nothing but indirect discrimination due to laziness.
I was at a debate around this time last year where the IBTS debated a very weak UCC LGBT soc and the first thing the woman from the IBTS did was give a little summary of all the STDs that gay men contracted and showed how they had a higher and sometimes hugely higher amount of STDs than the straight population. A fantastic way of building your argument but not something becoming of an organisation funded by the Health Board.
I also helped the LGBT soc write a press release on this and I remember a local gay mens organisation refusing to help or support them. It wouldn’t have anything to do with getting funding from the Health board though. No gay organisation would ever ignore discrimination simply to keep their funding…