Lesbians face blood donation discrimination


Citizen’s donate blood in Hebei

This opinion piece was written by Veronica Chao Lim, a Fulbright student researcher living in Beijing.

In the wake of the 5/12 Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan, heartbreaking earthquake coverage dominated every form of media, and it seemed the whole of China mobilized to help in the relief effort. Chinese people from all walks of life rallied to make contributions; people gave free haircuts to earthquake victims, troops were dispatched to distribute blankets and food, and student groups volunteered to teach classes to students whose schools and homes were destroyed. Yet some groups found their help unwanted.

On May 28th les+ magazine, a volunteer magazine supported by the largest lesbian group in Beijing, posted an article on their online blog called “LES blood donors, where are you?” criticizing a ban on lesbian blood donors during a crucial time. Gay men have been formally recognized by the central government as a high-risk group for contracting HIV, and are thus are excluded from donating blood. However lesbians are only excluded because forms listing groups prohibited from donating blood use the term “同性恋” (tongxinglian), an umbrella term for anyone who has been involved in same-sex relationships. As a consequence, lesbians are excluded even though they are not usually considered at high-risk of contracting HIV.

Why not allow lesbian blood donors to contribute to their country? A policy banning lesbians from donating blood on the basis of HIV prevention is nonsensical: according to some sources, lesbians may even be at lower risk than heterosexual men and women for HIV contraction. Currently semantics are the only reason lesbians cannot give blood.

But more importantly, should a donor really have to state sexual orientation when giving blood? Not all gay men have HIV/AIDS. Gay men do not have “dirty blood” but a ban on all homosexual blood donations sends just that message about gay men, and illogically extends it to lesbians. Donations of blood from anyone should pass through rigorous testing before they are transfused to patients. In China, poor citizens and migrant workers are also at much higher risk for HIV/AIDS contraction than wealthier citizens, but of course there is no minimum income requirement when donating blood.

This is not just a Chinese problem. In the United States, the American Red Cross bans males who have “had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977” from donating blood because they are statistically significantly more likely to have contracted HIV. Statistics also say that American black women are 19 times more likely than white women to have HIV, but of course black women are not uniformly prohibited from donating.

Statistics do not justify the formal banning of queers from donating blood, yet for many the ban seems logical and appropriate. Not only is it discriminatory to ban homosexuals from donating blood, it is problematic to prohibit anyone from donating blood based solely on the HIV statistic associated with their race, ethnicity, class, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, or gender.

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