Our last (but definitely not least!) contribution for Guest Post Week comes from Helen. Helen is a recent graduate with a MA in History and Gender & Women Studies. heS currently works for a local college in Northern Ireland and blog at @TakeitotheBR and at NursingClio.org. Her academic and blogging interests include gender, human rights and conflict resolution.
What Poots did next? The latest controversy
Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots is currently a factor in a legal battle on blood donations. An unidentified man is attempting to overturn the ban on homosexual men donating blood in NI. This case is another in a long line of Poots showcasing his inability to connect with, and properly represent, many of his constituents. My distaste for Minister Poots is well documented following his appalling record on reproductive choice alongside his homophobic prejudice.
In 2011, the United Kingdom updated the Blood Donation policy to be more inclusive of homosexual men for the first time following the AIDs scare in the 1980s. Those “whose last relevant sexual contract was more than 12 months ago” are now eligible to donate blood in England, Scotland and Wales. Poots maintains that it is too dangerous to lift the ban against homosexual men giving blood in Northern Ireland. He has also called for further exclusions – those who have had sex “with somebody in Africa or sex with prostitutes”.
The Government Advisory Committee report which prompted the UK to update their policy indicated that a much shorter window existed than previously thought during which viruses such as HIV could not be detected. The period in which HIV is difficult to detect is usually up to three months. Keeping this in mind a 12 month ban still seems extremely cautious of the supposed danger of a sexually active homosexual man’s blood. While an improvement on what came before, as well as on Northern Ireland’s policy, this continues to feed the stereotype of the “promiscuous gay man.” A heterosexual man does not have to quantify his sexual life can give blood freely, whereas a homosexual man in a monogamous relationship cannot; this exposes the hypocrisy and discrimination of this policy.
For Northern Ireland, not even this 12 month window exists. Any man that has had anal and/or oral sex with another man is currently banned from donating blood in Northern Ireland. The reality is that most gay and bisexual men do not have HIV. Any ban which exists on homosexual men as a whole is a policy dictated by prejudice, not by scientific fact and medical evidence.
Poots’ comments and refusal to lift the ban perpetuates a culture of homophobia and exclusion from Northern Irish society. Ironic considering the “shared society” rhetoric which politicians (including the DUP) are constantly shovelling down our throats, yet simultaneously acting to promote the very opposite of that.
The Human Rights Commission have rightly pointed out that “Northern Ireland is subject to the obligations contained within the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” This includes respect for all individuals without distinction of any kind. For the medical world to put forward 12 months as an extremely cautious safe guard against the HIV virus being transmitted through blood donations, it is therefore discriminatory for the life time ban to continue in Northern Ireland.
The case continues to investigate the legality of Northern Ireland policy.