The best way to end discriminatory blood donation bans is to stop AIDS. Duh.
In his recent article on changes to South African blood donor policy, Mark Joseph Stern condemns the government’s previous ban on donations from men who have had sex with men (MSM) within the last six months, as well as its revised policy that focuses instead on the gender- and sexual orientation-neutral obligation for any donor to have not had a new partner within the last six months.
Far from “slut shaming”, that seems to me pretty good policy. Stern wants to rely solely on advanced testing methods, ones that may or may not be available or affordable in the South African medical system. AIDS in South Africa is far from being a “gay disease”, and it makes sense to recognize that women may be infected (although many are infected by their husbands, and would not be affected by these new guidelines). And he ignores that this policy is far more enlightened that that of many other progressive countries. Stern notes that the United States applies a lifetime ban on MSM donors. America’s progressive neighbor to the north only rescinded its lifetime ban last year, and still applies a five-year deferral. Here in Europe, fairly progressive countries like France, Germany, and the Netherlands impose a lifetime ban.
These blanket bans have been rightly criticized. Testing has improved, and donor screening based on actual behaviors of potential donors, gay or straight, man or woman, would be fairer, less discriminatory, and increase the number of donors. Current bans have resulted not only in the loss of perfectly good donors (I, for example, used to give blood, but had to stop the day I had sex with a man), but in boycotts based on the discriminatory nature of the bans.
But I still think that the best way for gay men to call for an end to these discriminatory bans would be to stop the spread of AIDS among gay men. Here in France, the number of new cases of HIV is stable, but the share of gay men among these cases is rising. The same is true in the United States. This may be due to better detection thanks to rapid tests that have allowed more effective outreach for screening programs. Whatever the reason for these high numbers, the fact remains that mass screening, early treatment, safer sex, and where appropriate, pre-exposure prophylaxis, could put an end to this epidemic. And that would be the strongest argument by far for an end to discriminatory bans.