You can always wear protection when having penetrative anal sex. You can get tested regularly for STIs. You can take PrEP (a daily drug preventing people from getting infected with HIV). You can be O- (universal blood donor) but none of this matters…
Because you are an openly queer man (gay, bisexual, or pansexual man). Because you like to have sex with other men, the implicit assumption is that your blood is tainted, that you are a vector of disease, that your identity equals infection. To put it simply, you cannot simply go to a health centre and donate blood and I don’t understand why.
Or no, scratch that.
I know why. Queer men have been barred for life from donating blood or subjected to different standards (several months of abstinence, etc.) since the AIDS pandemic started in the 80s. However, any ban prohibiting queer men from donating blood reeks of queerphobia, and is rooted in discriminatory practice rather than scientific grounding. Charlene Garlarneau, an American bioethicist, wrote in 2010, that “discrimination resides not in the risk itself but in the Federal Disease Agency response to the risk.” To put it simply, deferrals and bans stigmatise. They place another layer of that so-called “promiscuous diseased label” on queer men’s bodies.
Don’t get me wrong, queer men are more likely to be openly non-monogamous than straight people and are more at risk of contracting HIV and the safety of the blood recipient trumps queer men’s right to donate. Yet, leading medical organisations and professionals have been debunking the relevance of a ban on queer men for the past decade now. After being donated, blood still undergoes a series of rigorous tests to detect traces of HIV, syphilis, hepatitis, and other blood-borne diseases. Of course, these tests are not 100% accurate, resulting in 10-HIV infected units per 12 million blood samples in the United States for instance.
Of course, the risk should not be minimised, but testing has become so accurate that barring certain individuals from donating blood based on a group’s membership is no longer logical and actually discriminatory. The way many policies worldwide go is that a queer man having had sex in the past three months with another man will not be able to donate blood but a straight man, a straight woman, or a queer woman having had several unprotected partners in the past three months will be able to. See why we say queerphobia here? Just like Benjamin Mazer reminds us, we would find a blood donation ban based on race or ethnicity repugnant, as there used to be in the United States when Haitians could not donate blood between 1983 and 1991. Blood donation should be based on a person’s individual risk based on their behaviour rather than a blanket discriminatory ban based on someone’s identity.
Nowadays, more and more countries are dropping their bans and deferrals on queer men. Is it thanks to years of LGBTIQ advocacy demanding blood donation protocols to reflect science rather than stigma and stereotypes, or because countries are faced with national crises of blood supply since the Covid-19 pandemic and the closing of blood drives? Or a combination of both? Who knows? That being said, more covert forms of discrimination may still loom over queer men even when blood donation eligibility is based on individual sexual behaviour rather than sexual orientation. Simply saying “don’t say gay” to doctors won’t often be enough. In any case, it is a step in the right direction, especially given that studies show that queer men would actually love to donate their blood and show that no, we are not disease vectors, and save countless lives.
In this way, blood donation is not only gendered but heteronormatively so.