For various health-related reasons, I’m not allowed to give blood. This has always annoyed me, and I’m slightly jealous of friends and colleagues who can, since I think it’s one of the most altruistic things you can do.
Imagine my surprise, then, when several years ago one of my closest friends responded to my moaning about it by saying that he couldn’t either. But not for tangible, provable medical reasons like me, but because he’s that lethal combination of homosexual and sexually active.
When I read in yesterday’s papers that public health minister Anne Milton is shortly to announce that this ludicrous ban on homosexual men giving blood is to be lifted, I was pleased that reason had finally come to the fore.
Yes, men who have sex with men are a high risk group for HIV/AIDS. People lie about their sexual practices, their drug use and their medical history - all of which could potentially lead to infected blood ending up in the blood bank. But homosexual people are no more likely to lie about these things than heterosexual people, and to assume otherwise is unacceptable discrimination.
Obviously, this ‘good news’ policy is being trailed now to try in some small way to distract from the high profile delays in the NHS reforms. Nice try, Milton - you aren’t going to be able to draw fire from Lansley out that easily.
Or are you? Look at bit closer at this announcement, and you find that what is replacing the discriminatory policy is, well, quite discriminatory and will, I hope, provoke widespread outrage.
Only homosexual men who have not had sex with a man for ten years will be permitted to donate blood. Those who are more recently sexually active will still be banned. That’s all sex, mind - responsible and protected or otherwise.
Three years ago, Johann Hari called the ban “bloody homophobia”. He was right - it discriminates against gay men and fails to place the same trust in them as it does heterosexual people who want to give blood.
The reason given for changing this policy is that it “might breach equality legislation”. Surely this new version doesn’t lessen that risk? Men who have safe sex with other men, including men in civil partnerships or committed relationships, are still being discriminated against.
Blood stocks - particularly for O negative - are dipping. Huge numbers of potential donors are being excluded for no valid reason.
That’s not just “bloody homophobic”, it’s supremely bloody homophobic, extremely discriminatory and potentially dangerous for thousands of patients in need of transfusions. The inequality has just got worse, not better.