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Lesbian donors take action over being shunned
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College student Li Yu instinctively answered a call last week from the government for blood donation, but it was her honesty that caused authorities to turn her away.

"I don't understand why and I feel discriminated against," Li, 20, told China Daily.

Li is a lesbian. Healthcare workers rejected her blood because she declared her sexual orientation on a mandatory health form.

Li is one of the latest lesbians to face such treatment under regulations that bar homosexuals from donating blood because of health concerns.

Lesbian donors take action over being shunnedLiu Mei (not her real name), a lesbian in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, expected healthcare workers to view her similarly during Liu's attempt last month to donate blood.

So she lied on her health declaration form.

"They took my blood after I lied on the form to hide my real sexual orientation," said the 29-year-old office clerk, who lives with her partner of four years.

Both of Li and Liu have signed an online petition asking the government to remove the discriminatory rule.

At least 540 lesbians nationwide have signed the online petition, Liu said. Their goal is 1,000 signatures.

"We just hope the authorities respect our kind intention to donate blood and remove the discrimination," Liu said. "I think it's also what China's 30 million homosexuals, including 10 million lesbians, want," said Li.

Shi Weiwei, deputy director of the Beijing Red Cross Blood Center, told China Daily that the regulations barring homosexuals from donating blood stem from safety concerns.

"As we all know, the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including the deadly HIV/AIDS, is much higher among groups such as drug users and homosexuals, particularly gay men, who tend to have multiple sex partners," she said.

As of 2007, about 700,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS in China, according to figures of Ministry of Health (MOH).

For the safety of blood recipients, people suffering from STDs, tuberculosis and hepatitis are also not allowed to donate, according to a blood donation regulation issued by the MOH in 1998, Shi said.

"Given that the blood quality and safety situation was bad in the 1990s, the regulation was devised primarily to ensure blood safety," she said.

Shi said there now are measures to screen for tainted blood at the donation stage.

But based on current regulations, there are no penalties for those who lie on health forms.

Recipients of infusions are also required to sign a consent form before accepting the blood.

The regulations, Shi said, need to be updated.

Zhang Beichuan, one of the country's leading scholars in homosexuality issues, suggested fixing the current wording.

"They should change homosexuals in the article to men having sex with men (MSM)," he told China Daily.

Given that HIV/AIDS prevalence among MSM including gay men and bisexuals, as well as a number of straight men, can be 50 times higher than that of the population as a whole, it is understandable to rule out these groups in blood donations to safeguard recipients' health, Zhang said.

"It's also in line with international practices," he said.

(China Daily July 28, 2009)

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