France took a meaningful step toward ending discrimination by announcing yesterday (Nov. 4) that the country will finally lift its lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood starting next year -- but they'll still require that they not have had sex with another man for at least twelve months before they're allowed to donate.
In the U.S., a similarly discriminatory, outdated lifetime ban is still formally in place -- as of today, no man who has had sex with a man anytime between 1977 and today is permitted to donate blood.
In May of this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a proposal similar to France's new policy, which would end the lifetime ban in the U.S., but would still require a twelve month celibacy period -- which activists have pointed out is still discriminatory, since it would function the same way the lifetime ban does for anyone not inclined to celibacy.
Activists argue that medically and scientifically, the ban makes little sense, since risk of HIV and AIDS is not limited to gay and bisexual men, and the likelihood of infection is primarily determined by the extent of risky behavior a person engages in, rather than by a person's sexual orientation. The ban is seen by many as a fearful, harmful remnant of the 1980s AIDS crisis. In May, when the FDA's new policy was up for review and still open to public comments, MTV News spoke with Jake Wilson, the creator of a (hilarious) "Bad Blood" parody PSA on the topic, who explained why it's so discriminatory.
"The policy is a complete double standard,” Wilson told MTV News. “A straight female can abuse painkillers, smoke, drink, never have an HIV test, have unprotected sex with a different guy every night, and still donate blood. A healthy man who only had oral sex with another man once 10 months ago, and has had 3 HIV tests since then, cannot donate. There’s no scientific justification for the policy. It is straight-up discrimination.”
It's also worth noting that all donated blood is tested before being used -- but some STDs, including HIV, can't be detected by tests right away. In France, the plan is to study the results of the blood tests for a year after the ban is lifted, and to eventually update the 12-month celibacy rule to match the rules for risky behavior and blood donation that already apply to everyone else if they find that there's no increase in health risks.
A group of gay rights activists in France called SOS Hobophobie said in a statement on Wednesday that they welcomed the lift on the lifetime ban, but also “very strongly regretted the continuation of discriminations based on sexual orientation," and suggested that instead there should be a “four-month deferral period for everybody, and only in cases where risks have been taken.”
Jean-Luc Romero-Michel, an openly gay politician and AIDS activist in Paris, echoed that idea when he told the New York Times, “What I don’t understand is why we don’t condition blood donation by high-risk behavior. It isn’t being heterosexual that is a risk. It isn’t being gay that is a risk. It is behaviors that are risky.”
The New York Times report went on to note that while many countries have policies similar to France's, "In Italy and Spain, donors are screened for high-risk sexual practices regardless of their sexual orientation, and deferrals are made case by case." Let's hope the rest of the world will soon follow their lead.