Local medical student Ky Ruprecht and nurse Connor Lynch were shocked to find that they were not allowed to donate blood to the Red Cross.
They haven’t had a tattoo in the past four months, they have healthy hearts, they do not have any sexual diseases, they have not injected recreational drugs in the past five years nor have they been overseas recently. Yet they were still turned away from the blood bank.
According to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, the men have engaged in ‘at risk’ sexual activity in the past 12 months – meaning they have had sex with each other in the past 12 months.
According to the current policy enforced by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the Red Cross will turn away a man if he has had sex with another man, regardless of protection, in the past 12 months.
A man who has had sex with a man who may have had sex with another man in the past 12 months, will also be turned away.
“Connor went to donate at a Red Cross van that was set up at the University of Canberra campus when he was studying,” Mr Ruprecht told Region Media. “He was turned away and he had no idea that the policy was being upheld.
“Many people are unaware that as a man in a same-sex relationship in Australia, I cannot donate my blood. We are in a long term monogamous relationship and we are both negative for any bloodborne diseases.
“Currently, a heterosexual person can engage in unprotected sex with as many partners as they like, in whatever way they like and are still eligible to donate. A monogamous gay man who can prove his negative disease status cannot.”
The Blood Service has been deferring donors who declare a history of male to male sex since the mid-1980s, while the current 12-month deferral period was introduced in 2000. In November 2017, UK blood services began incrementally moving from 12 to three months for deferrals for all sexual activity-based risks including male-to-male sex.
The Australian Red Cross said its current deferral policy is based on Australian scientific data that indicated men who have sex with men pose the greatest risk of HIV transmission.
“It has almost been 20 years later, the screening is much better and the education awareness is much better,” Mr Ruprecht said. “We can even get married!
“The policy is outdated, it is prejudicial, and it invalidates our relationships.
“On the back of the blood shortage that was announced last week, if your blood bank is in dire need for blood and you have a population that can donate that are perfectly healthy to donate, why are you denying us?”
According to their website, the Blood Service had previously proposed to the TGA to reduce all sexual activity-based deferrals from 12 to 6 months, which was not supported, keeping the 12-month deferral period as is.
In April last year, the ACT Government, led by Chief Minister Andrew Barr, wrote to the TGA and Federal Health Minister urging for them to consider a reduction of the deferral period to three months, in line with the UK.
The letter also asked the Federal Government to consider eliminating all deferral periods, in line with the policies of France and Israel.
But Mr Ruprecht said the reduction in the deferral period from 12 months to the proposed three months will not remove the barrier of men in long term same-sex relationships from donating.
Mr Ruprecht and Mr Lynch have launched a petition, which has garnered over 3,000 signatures at the time of writing, raising awareness about the “absurdity” of the current blanket ban placed on gay and bisexual men that deters them from donating blood.
“The current policy is a remnant of historical prejudice reinforcing the belief that all homosexual men engage in promiscuous and irresponsible sexual practice,” Mr Ruprecht said. “This blanket refusal of blood casts a wide net of unnecessary exclusion.
“Would you refuse our blood if you or your family were in need?”
Access the petition here.