Rejected Despite Blood Supply Shortage: Stigmas Against Gay Men Donating Blood

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This article is part of the 37th issue of LEAP — Voices of Youth e-letter. Subscribe now.

Flags waving people to “Donate Blood to Save Lives”. However, not every willing individual is able to do so.

Walking around Taiwan, you might see flags waving in the breeze on the roadside near parks or medical institutions encouraging people to “Donate Blood to Save Lives” and help those in need. It is considered a noble and benevolent act to donate blood to help a stranger.

Blood donation regulations specify that patients with AIDS can never donate blood in their lifetime. According to statistics, over 69% of patients with AIDS are men who have had sexual relations with another man. Consequently, in people’s mind, AIDS is associated with gay men, which often leads to discrimination. As a result, restrictions stopping gay men from donating blood are hard to change.

Stigma and discrimination are often exacerbated when two stigmatized groups are combined into one. There are multiple barriers restricting gay men from donating blood, even for such a benevolent action.

When gay men are equated to AIDS

The high degree of association between AIDS and gay men among the public comes from misinformation and the perceived culture surrounding sex in the gay community. (Photo credit: Pexels)

When it comes to AIDS, similar to the current monkeypox outbreak, the public tend to point and link the source of infection with sexual behaviors between gay men. This situation is reflected in Item 26 on the health questionnaire of the Taiwan Blood Services Foundation, “Have you ever had sexual relations as a man with other men? Date: ____”.

For this, interviewee Chu Yi who identifies as a gay man was puzzled. “It was as if one must come out of the closet before donating blood,” he said. When he was in high school, a bloodmobile visited his school, and he had his first experience donating blood. However, that was the first and last time he donated. ‘At the time, the nurse on the bloodmobile asked me one question after another. Then, she suddenly asked, “Have you ever had sexual relations with other men?” I was terribly shocked,’ Chu Yi said and shook his head, puzzled by why the nurse did not explain the ban against donating blood for men who had sexual relations with other men, but instead directly demanded to know about the donor’s sex life. Due to this, Chu Yi lost the will to donate blood ever again after high school. However, if the regulations ever changed to allow men who have had sexual relations with men to donate blood, “I would want to donate,” he stated.

Chu Yi added that gay men who have already openly accepted their own identity and sexual orientation find this question too invasive, let alone those men who are still struggling with this process. Chu Yi said, “It causes further distress to people who are still struggling with their sexual orientation and self-identity.” He recalled that when he was in junior high school, he heard advertisements for AIDS prevention and a lecturer warning male students, “If you have sexual relations with other men, you have a high chance of contracting AIDS.” This practice of equating AIDS with gay men made Chu Yi, who clearly knew he was gay, worry that contracting the disease was inevitable.

In reality, the accuracy of AIDS screening is very high, and results become available in less than half an hour. People who would like to donate blood can be screened at the beginning of the process. Thus, the safety of all the donated blood could be ensured, and the stigma toward certain groups could be avoided. Also, other situations, such as, where gay men may be concerned about revealing their sexual orientation and falsified answers on the questionnaire could be avoided. Therefore, when discussing AIDS, there should be a stronger focus on “safe sex,” rather than focusing on people’s sexual orientations and reinforcing biases and discrimination.

Relaxing blood donation rules: Countries such as Great Britain, the United States, and Australia no longer ban gay men from donating blood

Due to the increase in testing technology and the problem of stigmatization resulting from restricting gay men from donating blood, countries such as Great Britain, the United States, and Australia have altered their regulations and allowed gay men to donate blood. Taiwan, however, still practices regulations set in 2006. (Photo credit: Pexels)

Due to fear that AIDS might not be detected in blood donations, many countries worldwide completely ban people with a high risk of AIDS, such as sex workers and men who have had sexual relations with other men, from donating blood. However, as testing technology improves and as concepts change, United Kingdom announced in 2021 that they would lift the ban against gay men donating blood, as long as they have not had sexual relations 3 months prior to donating. As for Canada, in 2022, it relaxed its regulations: no matter one’s sexual orientation, as long as they practice safe sex, they are eligible to donate blood. Australia altered its wording for blood donors, changing it from men who have had sexual relations with other men to “individuals practicing anal sex or oral sex with or without condoms are not eligible to donate blood.” It is hoped that through the direct relaxation of regulations or through removing terms directly targeting certain groups of people, individuals who have the willingness to donate blood may have the same rights regardless of sexual orientation.

Although current AIDS screening technologies are now able to reduce the test period from 21 to 11 days, Taiwan’s blood donation regulations still comply with the Blood Donor Health Standards established in 2006. The regulations from 2006 restrict people with AIDS, sex workers, and addicts who use intravenous drug injections, as well as men who have sexual relations with other men from ever donating blood. Although in 2018, competent authorities in Taiwan have tried to relax the regulations for blood donation, it was subjected to many criticisms and objections. In 2019, the competent authorities stated that the original regulation — that men who have sexual relations with other men may not donate blood — would be kept. Taiwan takes pride in being an implementer of gender equality, and yet it still relies on the government to educate the public to remove stigmas and alter public misconceptions. Labels against certain groups should be removed to allow everyone who is healthy and willing to donate blood according to their own free will.

Also in This Issue: From Fear of Discrimination to Social Support: the Long Road of AIDS

Since the discovery of HIV a century ago, the conbimed fear for AIDS and gay people has created a seemingly unwashable stigma.

Author : Vivian May

Freelance journalist exploring gender and public issues.

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LEAP − Voices of Youth

LEAP − Voices of Youth

LEAP: Voices of Youth is a quality platform for English readers to learn about gender issues in Taiwan