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A grassroots organisation is calling on the Australian Red Cross and the Therapeutic Goods Administration to relax rules restricting blood donations from gay and bisexual men. At present, there is a 12-month celibacy period in place for men who have sex with men. “The policy is homophobic,” said Remy Pilot, of Let Us Donate. “In essence, any [gay] man who has sex within the last year — regardless of individual circumstance — has lost the right to donate blood within Australia.”

The 12-month deferment is upheld regardless of whether a person is on PrEP or using condoms, or whether sex is confined to a monogamous relationship. Let Us Donate is campaigning for a shortening of the deferral period to four months, or alternatively, for eligibility to be determined by individual risk assessment. “Put simply, within three months it is possible to determine whether someone has contracted HIV, a fact which makes the current 12-month deferral period discriminatory and outdated,” said Pilot.

A lifetime gay blood ban was introduced in Australia in 1983 along with legislation making it a criminal offence for an individual not to disclose a history of male-to-male sexual contact. By 2000, regulations were relaxed, allowing donations by gay and bisexual men who had not engaged in homosexual activity for 12 months. Despite the Red Cross recommending in 2014 that the 12-month period be reduced, the TGA rejected the proposal.  

Critics of the current policy argue that if women are trusted to make their own assessment and accurate disclosure of their likely HIV risk — why can’t gay and bi men? It is this lack of trust that fuels accusations of homophobia and discrimination. “It is discriminatory to the extent that gay and bisexual men are not trusted to make responsible decisions about their own, or others’, sexual safety. Nor are they trusted to honestly disclose their likely sexual risk,” said Jennifer Power of the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society. “This mistrust stems from a long-term cultural association between gay men, hedonism, irresponsibility and deviance.”

Let Us Donate is running an online fundraising campaign and petition to effect a change in policy. “The Australian Red Cross states that ‘the underlying principle on which people give blood has to be one of mutual trust’,” said Pilot. “This trust must be extended to the hundreds of thousands of queer persons it excludes from donating blood.”

 

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