Over the course of a year, the world has found itself opening up to the queer community in a myriad of monumental ways; from the plebiscite and eventual legalisation of gay marriage within Australia, to the de-illegalization of gay sex in India. The world is slowly becoming more accepting towards queer individuals. Australia is a country that regards itself by and large as accepting, a country that has always wanted to hold itself up to the ideal that equality is an important part of the fabric of our lives. However, this doesn’t mean we’ve reached equality yet.
There remains a strong sense of bigotry that extends not only to ideals that determine true equality, but to the very laws that hold us back from saving a life.
After the HIV and AIDS crisis of the 1980’s, laws were introduced that halted gay individuals from the act of donating blood until a year after their last sexual act. What is it about our sexuality that is deemed not good enough to help someone in need? According to the Therapeutic Goods Association, there’s a simple reason: It’s not safe for gay men to donate within the time-frame as there is a higher risk of spreading HIV. But is this true, or is it another smoke screen to allow the undercurrent of homophobia to have its place?
Whether you’re in a monogamous relationship with another man or someone who has multiple partners, in the eyes of Therapeutic Goods Association you are still unworthy of donation. As reported on the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, “The Blood Service recognises that there will be different levels of risk among men whose sexual partners are men. However, scientific modelling shows that overall – even men in a declared exclusive gay relationship – have, on average, a 50 times greater risk of HIV infection, compared to heterosexual Australians with a new sexual partner.” This is what they’ve chosen to say in order to deny us our rights as human beings. Studies have found that HIV can be detected within 3-4 weeks, and up to 3 months after infection, a considerable decrease from the 12-month waiting period that has been implemented.
There have been further studies conducted by the Australian Red Cross in conjunction with the Kirby Institute, which have indicated that this time frame could be at least be halved or reduced even further, but unfortunately the precedent has been set. After six years of attempts at reducing the wait period, the TGA rejected the recommendation in 2014.
The Australian Red Cross is now on its second attempt to overhaul this ruling later this year, in what could hopefully mark the beginning of a better understanding of our lives and the lives of the people that could be saved with a simple donation. For the second time, we have hope.
The queer community has faced a lot of prejudice in Australia for many years, which reached its zenith during the hotly debated plebiscite in late 2017. However, this serves to highlight the many ways in which this law is not just discriminatory, but also heartbreaking. Earlier this year, Corey Eteveneaux, a young gay man from New Zealand, who was killed in a car accident, was denied the opportunity to donate his organs simply because he was a sexually active gay man. He was denied the opportunity to allow his death to be the catalyst for saving multiple people who are in need of healthy organs in order to survive, simply because of who he loved. If Australia can find the compassion in its heart to allow queer individuals to be married to the person they love, can’t we also find a way to allow our love to extend to those in need?
Looking around the world, Australia isn’t the only country that still has a way to go. The 12-month restriction period on donating blood is a highly contested law in countries such as the United States, Canada, Brazil and Germany. This has led to organisations such as FCB Health and Gay Men’s Health Crisis in partnering up on a new campaign over social media, which features the blood bag printed in each country’s flag, stitched into a rainbow flag. This campaign has found itself exploding over Twitter, bringing together queer voices from all over the world to highlight this issue that needs to be resolved, and the entailing bigotry that needs to be dealt with.
As of now, Australia still remains a country that wants to be known for its inclusiveness. It wants to pride itself on the ways in which it accepts and supports its people, but we have a long way to go. This just won’t stand much longer. After a year of covering the same topic, with the same results, we’ve grown tired of this outcome. Queer individuals should be allowed the right to be able to donate blood, regardless of our sexual partners. This world has come a long way since the 1980’s and as a community at large we should be embracing it.
We should be embracing each other and our contribution to each others lives. Legalising gay marriage should be the first step into a future that deems us all as equal, not the last.