Photo: "I am not allowed because I am gay" reads a flyer plastered on top of a poster that says "Thanks for donating blood". Image from a 2007 protest organized by the Argentinean Homosexual Community (CHA).
With a number of legislators renewing their push to have a blood donor ban on gay and bisexual men lifted in the United States, the Irish health minister doubling down against a similar push in the European country and the French health ministry taking the opposite road by announcing they are taking steps to lift their own ban, there seems to be an extraordinary amount of international movement on this issue. That includes several countries from Latin America.
Chile: On May 23rd representatives from the Chilean Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (MOVILH) emerged from a meeting with the country's health minister, Jaime Mañalich, and announced that the government would stop enforcing a law banning gay men from donating blood. MOVILH had made a similar announcement in 2009 under a different presidential administration but nothing seemed to come from it.
Under current guidelines public and private clinics are required to ask potential donors about their sexual orientation and turn away men who have had sex with other men without protection. The new measure, which will take effect in July, would specifically prohibit clinics from asking the sexual orientation of prospective donors. This time, the government appears to mean what they say.
In a statement posted on the health ministry's website on May 24th, Minister Mañalich stated that banning gay men from donating blood "made no sense from a scientific standpoint and even less when taking discrimination into consideration".
In the meantime, on June 5th, the MOVILH brought forward two cases in which gay men were kept from donating blood at two medical centers. At least one of the clinics apologized that same day and said that it was a misunderstanding stemming from brochures left in the waiting room spelling out the old regulations. The clinic announced they would remove all brochures and await new material from the government come July.
Colombia: Meanwhile, on May 28th, El Espectador reported that the Colombian Constitutional Court had ruled in favor of a man from Bucaramanga who argued that a clinic had discriminated against him when they asked about his sexual orientation and turned him away when he revealed he was gay.
Part of the Court's ruling reads as follows:
The risk of contamination depends on the behavioral risk and not on the donor population; hence, a heterosexual person who has multiple sexual relations with unknown persons without protection on a long term basis than a gay man with a long term partner who uses protection. The [clinic's] guidelines do not take this into account, which makes them worthless or inadequate. Furthermore, public policy should focus on selecting all donors based on high risk behaviors, instead of excluding donors based on who they choose to have sexual relations with.Adding:
This Court has determined that individuals and state agencies should stop perpetuating discrimination against the homosexual community in a manner that sends a message of stigma as in the current case.The Court also stated that using sexual orientation as criteria was unnecessary because all blood centers are required to test blood donations for HIV. A 1996 regulation still in the books bans anyone who has had "homosexual relations" in the past fifteen years from donating blood.
The Court ordered the Colombian health ministry to draft new regulations. No word on the health ministry's response so far.
Argentina: In the meantime, a Buenos Aires councilmember has introduced a municipal bill that would ban clinics from asking blood donors about their sexual orientation.
Councilmember Maximiliano Ferraro's bill, introduced just this week, says "information will not be required from donors regarding their gender identity, personal or sexual life, or any other information that discriminated or violates a person's right to their privacy".
If it gains momentum and is passed, it would only apply to Buenos Aires.
In 2006, the Argentinean National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI) recommended the Argentinean blood donor ban be lifted and the Argentinean health ministry agreed to take a look at ways to lift the ban. But the process apparently has since stalled.