“Liberated.” Brian Clough posted this photo after becoming one of the first openly gay, sexually active men to donate blood in South Africa.
While the change to South Africa’s blood donation rules allowing gay men to donate has been widely welcomed, some have reacted with concern and even anger.
Last week, Mambaonline reported that the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) had put a new non-discriminatory policy in place that allows anyone who’s been in a monogamous relationship for six months or longer (or has been celibate for the same period) to donate blood, irrespective of sexual orientation.
LGBTI organisations like OUT in Pretoria applauded the news as did the national Health4Men campaign.
“The African continent has been clouded in a lot of anti-gay news of late. The announcement by the SANBS lifting the ban on sexually active gay men donating blood brings a welcome ray of sunshine to the LGBTI community in South Africa,” said the campaign in a statement.
It added: “Health4Men welcomes this new development in our fight against homoprejudice in our society. It can indeed be a way for members of the LGBTI community to feel more ‘normal’ and less discriminated against.”
However, Mark Joseph Stern, writing for Slate, criticised the new rules. While he is in favour of ending the discriminatory gay blood policy, he slammed the six month window period as excessive and “terrible,” insisting that at the very most a three month window period is all that is required.
“…the new policy shifts its underlying discriminatory assumptions from gay people to all non-monogamous sexually active people. It’ll almost certainly prohibit vast swaths of the South African population from giving blood, and it sends a prudish, slut-shaming message to all would-be donors,” he said,
“Even if the South African National Blood Service is stuck with the most obsolete HIV testing technology still in use, it could still detect HIV around a month after infection. A two-month window would constitute extreme caution, three months would be excessive—and six months is just absurd,” wrote Stern.
Some members of South Africa’s LGBT community also lashed out at the SANBS, but primarily for having taken so long to change its humiliating policy.
Charl Van Den Berg, a former Mr Gay South Africa and Mr Gay World (2009/2010), wrote on Facebook: “It’s all good that gays can now finally donate blood but I really do think you can shove it! My blood was never good enough before, why is it good enough now?”
He was not alone in taking this perhaps understandably bitter view, but others urged him to reconsider. One responded: “Agree with you 100% that previous approach was not correct, but why forego the opportunity now to save lives? Also bearing in mind that the current people in need had nothing to do with previous policy… ”
Other LGBTI South Africans made a point of donating blood as soon as they could. One such individual is Brian Clough, who was Deputy Mr Gay South Africa 2012. He donated blood on Thursday in Nelspruit as a proudly gay man and told Mambaonline that he felt “liberated” by the experience.
Clough described the new policy as “a step forward to remove the stigma around gay men. I knew my blood was safe to donate and yet I couldn’t because of the love and affection I have for someone.”
He said that he would donate blood regularly from now on and urged other gay men in monogamous relationships to do the same, “not only to save lives by donating blood, which it most definitely does, but also to prove to the SANBS that they weren’t wrong by changing the policy to include gay men.”