Coronavirus: As Donations Decrease, A Reminder That Gay Men, Sex Workers And Others Can’t Give Blood

Isn't it time, asks Guy Pewsey, to reconsider the idea that men sleeping with men - and sex work - is classed as 'too risky' for blood donation?


by grazia |
Updated on

Despite the distinct feeling that the UK began its lockdown measures months ago, it's been only a few weeks since the country really started to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously. It is realistic, if not pleasant, to state that things are not going to improve before they get worse, and while the nation reacts to panic buying, widespread unemployment and economic uncertainty, people are understandably worried. But amidst it all, the NHS is battling to do its best. Among other things, they are reminding us that blood donation must continue as normal. For me, though, donating isn't normal at all. I'm not allowed to give blood, because I'm a man who sleeps with men.

NHS rules are careful to specify that this isn't about sexuality. It is about what is deemed 'risky activity.' They include, but are not limited to 'men who have had sexual activity with another man, commercial sex workers and people who have sex with partners in groups known to have a high risk of having an infection that could be passed on during sex.' I can give blood if I wait to have sex for three months. I'm not going to apologise for saying that I'm not going to do that and, to my recollection, there hasn't been a time in my adult life where that three-month period has applied. I'm not going to decline a romantic opportunity just to fall in line with an unacceptable rule.

Should I feel lucky? In the US, those in my situation had to wait for 12 months, until this week, when that was reduced to three, in the hope that gay men will come forward to help their current shortage. But I still smart at the idea that I can't be of use just because I enjoy a perfectly healthy sex life.

It is treated as a given, or at least more probable, that we are riddled with something unseemly.

For the record, all blood is tested after a donation. A woman or man who enjoys frequent, heterosexual relationships with other heterosexuals - whoever they are, and however many they are - can walk in, donate their blood and leave. It will be checked for syphillis, HIV and hepatitis B, among other things, and if positive it will be disposed of. Gay men, sex workers and others engaging in so-called 'high risk' sex don't get the opportunity to be tested. It is treated as a given, or at least more probable, that we are riddled with something unseemly.

Of all the things to worry about right now, it's not at the top of my list. People are dying all over the world. I am not going to take my placard to Downing Street during my allotted exercise allowance. But as the world faces a blood shortage - the US is, reports say, in 'urgent need' - I am served with a more-than-usual reminder that I'm not welcome. It's one of those little things that, collectively, contributes to the sense of alienation and otherness felt by many in the LGBTQ+ community and those in sex work. To me, it says 'we don't want you, however desperate we may be.'

Last week, an NHS Blood and Transplant spokesperson told The Sun: 'We need donors to keep donating as normal. Our stock levels are currently good but we need people to keep donating to make sure hospitals continue to receive the blood they need.' So I will continue as normal, by not donating at all. What a shame that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country, people just like me, who couldn't even help if they wanted do.

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