Peter Tatchell attacks Terrence Higgins Trust over gay blood ban

PinkNews logo on pink background with rainbow corners.

A prominent gay rights campaigner has said that sexual health charities are colluding with “stereotyped and prejudiced assumptions” that bar gay men from giving blood.

The National Blood Service claims that it targets sexual behaviour and not sexual orientation, but there is a lifetime ban on donations from men who have had sex with men.

There is increasing pressure for the ban to be lifted in favour of more sophisticated models.

In an article on The Guardian newspaper’s website, Peter Tatchell set out the case for an end to the ban.

“We all now carry the mark of the HIV ‘Anti-Christ,'” he wrote.

“Every single same-sexer in Britain is categorised by the NBS as a potential purveyor of death and destruction.

“We are all reckless liars, who can never be trusted to behave with sexual responsibility or to tell the truth about our sexual history and HIV risk factors.

“Every last one of us – including gay doctors, priests and HIV educators – are prohibited from giving blood, now and forever.”

Mr Tatchell, who is a parliamentary candidate for the Green party, also attacked gay charities for siding with the NBS.

“Oddly, this unscientific, irrational policy is backed by gay-led HIV charities in the UK, such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and Gay Men Fighting Aids (GMFA).

“Now dependant on funding and goodwill from establishment bodies, they have joined the establishment.

“Unwilling to challenge a blanket ban that is irrational and ignorant, they collude with the NBS’s stereotyped and prejudiced assumptions about gay and bisexual men.

“Scientists, doctors, HIV organisations and gay rights campaigners in many other countries take a different view.

“They say that a total ban on all blood donations from men who have sex with men lacks scientific credibility and medical justification. They are right.

“The NBS gay blood ban is based on the ill-informed, homophobic presumption that all gay and bisexual men are ‘high risk’ for HIV, regardless of their individual sexual behaviour.

“This is nonsense. Most gay men do not have HIV and will never have HIV.”

Terrence Higgins Trust, a leading HIV and sexual health charity that provides services across England, Wales and Scotland, backs the National Blood Service.

“We support the current attitude of the NBS but we do think they could go a lot further to explain themselves,” Lisa Power, THT’s head of policy, told in May.

“I don’t blame people who don’t understand the ban and who think it is all about prejudice.

“99 times out of 100 when someone is told they can’t do something because they are gay, it’s prejudice.

“What the blood service does is something they have been afraid to admit in the past – they play the odds.

“They look at how much blood they need and they look at how many risks they have to take to get the blood, and they do not take any more risks than that.

“And although the risk is relatively low, there is a risk there.

“When we talk to people about this, they are surprised to find out that nobody from England can give blood in America.

“The odds that they play in America mean they do not need to take English blood and there is a tiny, and not dissimilar risk, of BSE from English blood.

“It wouldn’t matter if you were a vegetarian, they will not take the risk.

“For a vegetarian to be refused the chance to give blood in America is pretty much the same as a gay man would feel.

“We support the blood service so long as they regularly review the evidence.”

Last month the National AIDS Trust accused the NBS of not doing enough to challenge the ban on gay donations.

“NAT is not convinced by the justification put forward for the current lifetime ban and we are campaigning for the National Blood Service to review it,” said chief executive Deborah Jack.

“The test for HIV used by the blood service is not the most reliable test currently available.

“Furthermore, the only two options considered as an alternative to the current lifetime ban are no restrictions at all and a one year ban – but there are alternatives such as the New Zealand five-year ban.

“A lifetime ban becomes increasingly indefensible when, for example, there would be next to no one alive with undiagnosed HIV fifteen years after they were infected.

“The National Blood Service has said it is willingly to review the ban if there is any new evidence. But it should be doing more.

“Instead of an essentially passive approach it should be proactive in questioning this outdated policy and looking for an alternative to a blanket ban.”

The NBS said in a statement:

“While safer sex through the use of condoms, does reduce the transmission of infections, it cannot eliminate the risk altogether. The reason for this exclusion rests on specific sexual behaviour rather than the sexuality of the person wishing to donate.

“There is, therefore, no exclusion of gay men who have never had sex with a man, nor of women who have sex with women.

“The policy would only be changed on the basis of clear evidence that patients would not be put at jeopardy. In addition, scientific advances in virus testing and inactivation are monitored.”

Similar blanket bans have been abolished in South Africa, Spain and Italy.