In 2008 Rodney Croome, a Tasmanian-based LGBT (lesbian, gay. bi-sexual, transgender) rights activist and academic, accused the Red Cross of homophobia, aligning itself with right-wing hate groups, undermining its own credibility with dodgy statistics, and using scare tactics, with respect to its so-called “gay blood ban policy” (Rodney Croom’s term). Currently National Convenor of Australian Marriage Equality (pro same-sex ‘marriage’ lobby), he wrote:
Why is the Red Cross undermining its own credibility with such dodgy statistics?
Why is it attempting to use …. “scare tactics”?
Why is it aligning itself with right wing hate groups by adopting their strategy?
Do the Red Cross or influential people within it actually believe that gay and bisexual men are highly and uniformly selfish, irresponsible, promiscuous and diseased?
This is hard to believe given the Red Cross’s firm commitment to humanitarian values.
What we can be certain of is that it’s justifying its current gay blood ban policy using some of the grossest and most offensive myths and stereotypes around.
Whether the Red Cross is expressing its own groundless fear of homosexuality, or attempting to appeal to that fear in others, there’s only one word to describe the shaky foundation upon which it is building its case, “homophobia”. (ref. 1)
This sort of inflammatory rhetoric is typical of the political agitators from the Australian Marriage Equality lobby.
Background to Rodney Croome’s accusations against the Red Cross of “homophobia”
In August 2008 a HIV social researcher told an Anti-Discrimination Tribunal hearing in Hobart, Tasmania, that only a small proportion of the gay community engages in risky unsafe sex. Associate Professor Anne Mitchell of Melbourne’s La Trobe University, gave evidence at the hearing of a complaint lodged by Launceston gay man Michael Cain. Mr Cain had complained that the Red Cross discriminated against him by refusing his offer of a blood donation because he had homosexual (anal) sex. He argued screening should be based on the safety of sexual practices, not sexual preference.
Professor Mitchell claimed that gay men who do not practice safe sex are only a small proportion of the gay community. When asked under cross-examination why a study showed more than 86 percent of newly acquired HIV cases were related to male to male sex (MSM), she said it was because HIV had already infected the gay community (ref. 2).
MSM are treated differently to other adults by Red Cross Blood Services because of their well-documented high risk sexual practices involving anal sex. Red Cross will also not take blood from anyone who in the previous 12 months has had a tattoo, a blood transfusion, a body piercing, been in prison, had sex with a prostitute or had a partner with hepatitis B or C.
Senior counsel Jeremy Ruskin, told the hearing that allowing ‘safe’ MSM to donate blood would be“calamitous” and “catastrophic”. He pointed out that MSM “monogamy is a myth” a finding based in part on a study from New Zealand (ref. 1)
A recent survey of New Zealand gay men, confirming this earlier study and undertaken in conjunction with the NZ AIDS Foundation revealed nearly two thirds of gay men are drug users, and the majority also cheat on their partners, frequently. The survey found that 35% of NZ gay men have sex with between 12 and a hundred different strangers every year, often in circumstances very similar to the gay nightclubs gay writer Eric Rofes documented in his book Reviving The Tribe’ (see ref. 3). The NZ survey found 77% of gay men failed to stay monogamous even for six months! (ref. 3)
In the US, the current guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to permanently ban any male who has had sex with another man (MSM), from donating blood, if the sexual activity occurred in the period from 1977 to the present day. There is no restriction on blood donation if the last MSM activity was before 1977.
In Canada today, where homosexual activity was decriminalised in 1969, deferral is “indefinite”, for homosexuals attempting to donate blood (i.e. a total ban) as it is in most European countries.
New Zealand Blood Service Rules
Since 2009, the New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) defers males from being blood donors, who have engaged in oral or anal intercourse, with or without protection, with another male, for five years. From the formation of the NZBS in 1998 to 2009, the deferral period was ten years, but was reduced to five years following an independent review of blood donation criteria in 2007-8 which found no significant difference in risk to the blood supply for deferral periods of five years compared to ten years.
The five year deferral period for MSM is on par with the five year deferral period for persons engaging in prostitution outside of New Zealand and people who have resided in a country which has a high (1% or more) HIV prevalence. It also applies to someone who carries HBV, HCV. Females who engage in sexual intercourse with a male who has had sex with another male are deferred for twelve months.
Such ‘discrimination’ against MSM, certain prostitutes and certain women, is based upon the “high risk” sexual practices they have engaged in. It is justified discrimination based on the need to safeguard the protect the public good.
Reasoning for restrictions
Blood services first and foremost must ensure that all blood received for donation is safe for transfusion purposes. This is achieved by screening potential donors for high risk behaviors through questionaires and interviews before blood is taken, and subsequent laboratory testing on samples of donated blood.
Blood services commonly justify their bans against MSM using the statistically high prevalence of HIV and hepatitis of MSM in population studies.
Risks are also associated with a regular donor testing positive for HIV, which can have major implications as the donor’s last donation could have been given within the window period for testing and could have entered the blood supply, potentially infecting blood product recipients.
An incident in 2003 in New Zealand saw a regular donor testing positive for HIV and subsequently all blood products made with the donor’s last blood donation had to be recalled. This included NZ$4 million worth of Factor VIII, a blood clotting factor used to treat haemophilliacs which is manufactured from large pools of donated plasma, and subsequently led to a natiowide shortage of Factor VIII and the deferral of non-emergency surgery on haemophilliac patients, costing the health sector millions of dollars more. Screening out those at high risk of bloodborne diseases, including MSM, reduces the potential frequency and impact of such incidents. (ref. 4).
Men who have sex with men still are disproportiately affected by the HIV virus and account for nearly half the approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . But it is a person’s behavior, not their sexual orientation, that puts them at risk say health experts. (ref. 5)
The fact remains that men who engage in anal sex with men (MSM) are considered such a high health risk when it comes to blood donation, that current policies governing suitable donors in New Zealand are unlikely to be altered.
Is the Red Cross homophobic? by Rodney Croome
Risky sex not common: Witness
Tuesday 12 August, 2008
As blood donations decline, U.S. ban on gay donors is examined.
By Jen Christensen CNN. 7 July 2012