Gay rights. It is a term that is, funnily enough, indiscriminately used these days —it is a term used to describe the idea that you should be treated equally, regardless of sexual orientation or sometimes, by extension, gender identity. When your brother, your father, aunt or uncle could by gay, could you turn to them and argue that they not your equal.
However, equal does not mean the same. It does not mean that exactly the same laws should apply to an 19-year-old gay student as they do to a married housewife of three. Just as the law draws a distinction between adults and children, the law draws a distinction between heterosexual and homosexual individuals.
A clear example of this is the current ban on gay blood donations. Since 2011 men who have sex with other men (MSM), regardless of sexual identity, and woman who have sex with MSM have been deferred from donating blood, unless they have been celibate for a period one year due to the risks of transmitting HIV. There is a distinction between gay and straight men. A natural and innate reaction is to consider this homophobic: another fervent example of the law’s prejudice towards gay men, a continuous trend that spans centuries. The ban fails to appreciate differences in sexual behaviour in individuals, whether homo or heterosexual: a gay man who uses condoms and only has oral sex with a monogamous partner is immediately excluding from donating. A heterosexual man who does not use contraception and has many partners is not. Objectivity is ignored: one person is defined by his sexuality, the other isn’t. A low-risk, sexually active gay man who wants to donate blood and is less likely to transmit HIV than his risk straight counter-part would still be turned away. The law fails to take into account individual circumstances and personal sexual practices, instead relying on stigmatism and stereotypes of gay sex.
In what some might describe as a vicious circle, not only does the law divide gay and straight men, but upon division places MSM in a category that reinforces the stigma of gay sex as a dirty, socially depraved and illicit activity. The category includes: sex industry workers, intravenous drug users and those who have had STIs such as hepatitis. We are, in my opinion, past the years when homosexuality should not be tolerated, that it is a practice which is immoral, justifying social ostracisation. That gay sex should be associated with poor sexual health and a drug-induced environment. Why does the law still see gay sex as such, when the law should reflect social values? We are not living in the 1800s, nor in fact, the 1980s when the ban was first introduced.
Many who argue against the ban, state with conviction empirical research about the need for gay blood. By the government’s own estimations the LGBT community amounts to nearly 6% of the population, with a more recent study stating that 1.6% of 16+ individuals stating their sexual identity as gay or bisexual, and as tolerance homosexuality increases, this number is set to rise. Considering that only about 4% of adults are currently donors in the UK but about 1/4 people need a blood transfusion in their life, many argue that the ban ludicrous — why ban people from donating blood when there is such a demand for it?
The answer, although controversial, is simple: when allowing the blood donation of that 19-year-old gay student threatens the health and welfare of that married housewife and 3 children, that is when prejudiced ban could perhaps be justified. For the same reason the ban was introduced, so too should the ban remain. Allowing gay men to donate blood will threaten the health of the nation: unfortunately, the stigma and preconception about AIDS being a ‘gay disease’ is somewhat true. In a recent study 1/360 people are HIV positive in the UK (.28%) whereas in MSM this rises to 1/17 (5.9%) - the chances of being HIV+ if you are a gay man is over 21 times higher. Now many argue that this is just a statistic, that the ban fails to take account of individual circumstances, it works on the presumption that a gay man is HIV positive. Now although it may seem unfair to the whole, it is logical to do so, for the simple reason that many people who have HIV don't actually know they have been infected. In 2013, an estimated 43,500MSM with men were living with HIV in the UK, of whom 18% were unaware of their infection. If you allowed gay men to donate blood, considering the disproportionate increase in chance they could infect another, a simple form filling sheet stating that you’re not HIV+ would not suffice, and individual testing would not be appropriate: not only is HIV undetectable for 12 weeks but it is extremely onerous to test whether someone is definitely HIV+. A proposal that we should be treated equally, whether straight or not, is an over-simplification - we must accept when considering the ban, that gay men pose a threat to the safety and health of society.
As Jodi Picot once said “Gay rights is not something most of us think about - because most of us happen to have been born straight”. If we have to think about gay rights, we should not allow our innate and unthoughtful reaction to label the ban as homophobic to justify its reovcation. We need to be cynical in appreciating that, yes the ban is homophobic, it works on the presumption that all gay men are HIV positive, it ostracises gay men from society, but it nevertheless, the health risk associated with removing this ban is indisputable. When granting equality, we must not just think about the rights of the individual they are being granted to, but also to those who they are not: in this case the right of the housewife and her children to accept a blood donation without the risk of HIV outweighs any notion that gay men should objectively be treated the same.