Thursday, December 10, 2009

Put Up Or Shut Up


Yet another festive season filled with things sweet and nice - friendship, family and good memories. A time often laced, for some - with a bitter undertone of loneliness, sorrow and loss. Some people find the "silly season" significant in terms of religious meaning. I find it laced with hypocrisy, shallow commercialism, false piety and genuine arrogance. What am I referring to? I will tell you:

Every year around this time, the South African National Blood Service starts whining about low blood stocks and the fact that they are desperately in need of donors. This past week I have seen the familiar call on lamp posts and in news headlines.

Once again, I find a grim, sarcastic smile on my lips. Why?

Every year around this time, many people will answer this call - whether out of concern for others, civic duty or simply out of helpfulness and love for their fellow human beings. What I find both sad and hypocritical is the fact that every year this time, many people who do so, will find themselves turned away and indirectly told that neither they, nor their blood - are good enough for the high and mighty standards of the SANBS.

I find it unbelievable that despite this "shortage of blood" which has the SANBS in such an eccentric flat spin, gay men and transgender people are still banned from donating blood - based on second-rate fairy-tales, right wing conservative junk-science and plain old-fashioned prejudice. Were it not so downright tragic, it would actually be funny.

On Wednesday 9 December, I along with several ECGLA Committee members underwent voluntary HIV testing. The aim of this was to show just how easy and convenient HIV testing is these days. Let's recount:

Waiting time for results = 10 minutes.

Cost of blood tests = R17,00 each.

10 minutes and R17,00. Isn't it interesting though, that the SANBS still discriminates unfairly against gay males and transgender women for the cost of a mere R17,00 and 10 minutes? I guess they really don't need blood then, do they?

Or is it an indication that our blood just isn't worth it, and neither are we?

I mean, at this point, the SANBS is really not testing every unit of blood donated for HIV, is it? Or are they? If that were the case, it would seem quite reasonable that they have proof then, that all gay men and transgender people as a group are an HIV risk? Have they ever presented any evidence to prove this? Or has it all been left to a scant reference to some obscure pseudo-scientific "studies" conducted by charlatans and mad-scientists such as Paul Cameron and others who among other things maintain that people can "catch gay" off a toilet seat?

Some people may fear receiving gay blood, not for reasons of contracting HIV - but because they fear it may "turn them gay" too. Excuse me? If I receive blood from a black donor, will it mean I will "turn black" as well? Idiots. As absurd as this example is, it should show just how absurd this belief is.

All this selective discrimination means is that the only actual "safeguard" supposedly "protecting" the receiver of blood against HIV is a silly piece of paper which includes irrelevant questions on sexual orientation and anal sex. This presupposes that anyone who is gay - especially a gay person who engages in anal sex (paradoxically excluding straight people who do so) is somehow more likely to be HIV positive - and that actually bothering to test the donors - or allow them to produce their own test results before donating this precious resource - is just too much fuss. It's far more convenient to just exclude them.

This is reinforced in the "six month rule" a recent revision (2005) which essentially means that if a gay man wants to be a permanent blood donor, he has to be celibate for at least six months or as long as he is a blood donor. In plain language, it means that gay people are welcome to be blood donors just as long as they stop being gay. Some concession.

As for the amount of blood that gets discarded after donation, testing "window periods" and lying while filling in forms, let's not even go there.

The answer to the problem according to the SANBS, appears to be to simply discriminate against a whole sector of society and eliminating them from the donor group, instead of screening all donors for the disease. It seems to make far more sense to discriminate unfairly, than to actually do some work and employ affordable technology. This would actually make sense. At least it does to me, but then what do I know?

Near as I can figure, the SANBS places a cost on the equality of gay and transgender people - R17,00 and twenty minutes - and considers this "too expensive".

If the SANBS REALLY needs blood, then it should either stop discriminating unfairly against a willing portion of society - or quit whining and shut the hell up.


If you would like to know more about Christina Engela and her writing, please feel free to browse her website.

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