HIV/AIDS expert compares Australian gay blood ban to racism

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The director of Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria has likened the Australian Red Cross ban on gay blood donations to racist discrimination.

Associate Professor Anne Mitchell gave evidence today at the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal taken by gay would-be donor Michael Cain.

Mr. Cain seeks to have the Australian Red Cross’ ban on gay men donating blood lifted.

Electronics technician Michael Cain, 21, of West Launceston, was rejected as a donor in October 2004, after replying “yes” in the Red Cross questionnaire to whether he had had gay sex in the past 12 months.

Speaking at the tribunal today, Professor Mitchell stated that high-risk sexual activity was not as widespread as some studies claim.

She said: ‘The most compelling evidence of all for the effectiveness of safe sex is the simple fact that…when safe sex was taken on by men who have sex with men the escalation in infection rate was pegged back.

‘This made it immediately clear that the risk of HIV infection was not associated with male to male sex per se, rather it was associated with unsafe male to male sex.’

Professor Mitchell went on to criticise studies cited by the Red Cross, which they claim justify the ban on gay blood donation.

She said: ‘Many of the samples in studies cited by the Red Cross are very small, recruited from men at high risk, and explicitly exclude men who practise safe sex in monogamous relationships.

‘They are not representative of all men who have sex with men.’

Professor Mitchell went on to suggest that, instead of a blanket ban on gay donors, a set of questions to be used by the Red Cross could be drawn up in order to identify high-risk sexual activity.

She went on to state her belief that the ban was similar to racist discrimination:

‘The deferral of men who have sex with men is based on who they are rather than what they have recently done and can be likened to deferral on the grounds of being Jewish or Indigenous.’

Professor Mitchell’s comments echo those made by the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group (TGLRG) last week.

TGLRG spokesperson, Rodney Croome, said:

‘The Red Cross cited statistics about rates of HIV and other infections in the gay community which were misleading.

‘The infections in question arise from unsafe sex, not gay sex, and because almost all these infections are increasing dramatically in other groups which aren’t banned from blood donation.

‘It was particularly offensive and unprofessional for the Red Cross to assert that “monogamy is a myth” in regard to men who have sex with men.’

The tribunal continues tomorrow with evidence to be taken from two bio-ethicists, Dr Scott Halpern and Dr Leslie Cannold.