Gay men in South African on Thursday pledged to descend on branches of the South African National Blood Service on Friday in a campaign to force the service to scrap its ban on blood donations from gays, according to a report published Thursday on the Dispatch Online.
David Baxter is spokesperson for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance, which is pushing for donors to be allowed to give blood without disclosing their sexual orientation.
Baxter said the alliance has about 157,000 members, and that about 150,000 of those members are gay men, giving the organization a strong base from which to launch its protest.
“This will be a massive national campaign which will hopefully force the blood services to treat all blood the same,” Baxter said.
The alliance had also lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.
The commission supports the blood service’s attempts to ensure a safe blood supply, but the service should not employ stereotypes or exclude people in trying to achieve this goal, said Jody Kollapen, chairman of the Human Rights Commission.
He said the challenge is to find a scientific method to safeguard blood that does not have a negative impact on people wanting to perform a civic duty.
But Dr. Robert Cookes, medical director for the blood service, denied that his agency was making any value judgments.
“Our intention is purely to protect the health of the recipient of the blood,” Cookes said.
Cookes said gay men are not the only group excluded from being blood donors. The agency also prohibits donations from anyone who had been involved in “risky behavior, including going into malaria areas.”
The medical director said that anyone who engages in risky behavior and then donates blood would be putting people’s lives at risk. But he acknowledged that the blood service is considering changing the wording of the question about male-to-male sexual contact because it could be seen as “gender insensitive.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2006.