Discrimination against the lgbtqia+ community in blood donation

The following are the slides that I presented for a blood donation drive at Scout24. The goal was to highlight how even small injustices and discrimination can have an affect on the LGBTQIA+ community. While the talk itself contains some pretty personal details for me I thought it was important to highlight this and then contrast it against the infinitely more difficult experience that transgender people have in the medical sphere.

Slide 1:

Hi, my name is Joseph and I'm part of the LGBTQIA+ community group at Scout. We're an employee-led initiative that aims to give a voice to those who either wouldn't have, or wouldn't feel comfortable having. We've been up and running for a few months now and we have some pretty exciting initiatives coming up.

One of the initiatives that we decided on was giving this presentation during the blood drive. Of course, donating blood is incredibly important work however it does give us an opportunity to think about queer discrimination not only in blood donations but also as a wider concept.

Slide 2:

Germany, as well as many other countries around the world, had a “deference” on queer people donating blood up until this year. The deference either meant that some queer people were either forbidden from giving blood or had to meet certain qualifiers. Why was this?

Slide 3:

The Autoimmunity Deficiency Syndrome (or AIDs) was an epidemic that spiked in the 80s and 90s and claimed the lives of 35 million victims. In the 80s and 90s the research around immunodeficiency viruses was minimal and this was exacerbated by a lack of education and understanding around male and male homosexual sex. This meant that a large portion of its victims were homosexual men.

The good news: Thanks to medical therapies, an average life expectancy with an HIV infection is possible nowadays. For people with HIV, regular use of antiretroviral drugs means that the amount of virus in the blood is very low, so that HIV is undetectable and cannot be transmitted. Most people with HIV who are on treatment can live with the virus for a long time without getting AIDS.

Slide 4:

Up until 2017 men who had sex with other men were expressly forbidden from donating blood. According to an amendment of the law in 2017 homosexual men and trans people were allowed to donate blood if they had not had sex for a year, thus further excluding the vast majority. In 2021 this was again amended to bring trans people and male homosexuals slightly more in line with their heterosexual counterparts however the “frequency” difference between homosexual and heterosexual men was still skewed. Transgender people were still unnecessarily highlighted in a stigmatizing way. Luckily this year on March 16 the Bundestag passed another amendment to the Transfusion Act meaning that sexual and gender identity would no longer be considered in the risk assessment.

While it is a welcome change the reason I believe that the initial exceptions for gay and trans people existed was rooted in homophobia. With the advances in medical technology and testing methods, the risk of contracting HIV through a blood transfusion has significantly decreased. In fact, modern blood screening tests can detect the virus within days of infection, making it highly unlikely that someone with HIV would be able to donate blood without being detected. Therefore, a blanket ban on homosexual men donating blood hasn't been justifiable for decades.

Slide 5:

While forbidding gay men from donating blood was bad for the blood stocks in Germany it also introduced a kind of “second class citizen” when donating blood.

In 2017 I was doing an internship for a large German company that would have an annual blood drive. While I would not say this company had a homophobic atmosphere nor did I suspect any of my colleagues to have any discriminations I still didn't reveal my sexuality to them. This wasn't to protect myself or to hide anything, it simply wasn't any of their business.

I had given blood in the UK before which had a deference that allowed me to donate and so I signed up to the blood drive with this German company. When the forms were handed out to be filled in I checked the box that asked if I had sexual contact with other men. I was turned away from the donation truck. As I was walking back to the office my manager noticed and asked what happened. As you can see from the list of reasons here about who can't donate my options were to admit to lie about being a drug addict, a sex tourist, being infected with HIV or AIDs, or to cheating on my partner at the time. As I was in a state of shock and unable to come up with an excuse I was unwillingly outed to my colleagues which, frankly, was a humiliating experience.

Obviously this issues affected me quite personally but it is minor compared to some of the discrimination that other groups in the LGBTQIA+ community face. Trans people navigating their way through healthcare systems is an infinitely more dangerous and strenuous task. However that is a presentation for another time, I have not faced these discriminations and I am not the voice that should be used on these issues.