Having to ask
It has now become almost routine for major institutions to scrutinize any campaign to promote blood donation, in case the organizers ask questions that might in any way be offensive to gay men and their supporters. Indeed, the largest school board in Quebec decided to ban blood donation clinics from all of its schools and offices some years ago, because the blood bank agency asked potential donors a list of questions. One of the many asked to men is whether they are gay and have been sexually active. The openly gay vice-chairman of the board protested at the "homophobia" of the question.
The result is that the dangerously limited blood supply of this country will be further hit. In other words, the essential surgical and health needs of the people of Canada are considered less important than the chance of a homosexual man being offended by a logical and essential question.
Nor is the scenario confined to Quebec or to schools. Universities face the same challenge and, for example, at Western Oregon University, there was a successful campaign to ban Red Cross blood drives from campus for the same reason. None of this should come as any surprise to those of us who monitor this sort of situation.
I recall writing about a similar incident some years ago for a major daily newspaper. In that case, the Red Cross had indeed been banned from a university campus in Canada for asking such a question. After the article appeared, the editor of the national daily for which I wrote telephoned me and told me I was never to write about gay people ever again. I argued that this was less about homosexuality than about public policy. It doesn't matter, replied the editor: never mention homosexuality "ever again." So much for the Davids and Goliaths of Canadian media.
It only goes to confirm what many of us have been saying for some time. The toleration that gay people request, and deserve, was achieved long ago. And I applaud that. The debate now is about unquestioning affirmation. This applies to marriage, adoption and so many other areas of the social fabric of our lives.
Let us also please reject the ridiculous charge of homophobia from all this. Of course there are haters out there, but for the most part the accusation of homophobia is merely a clumsy, but sometimes successful, attempt to stifle contrary opinion. In this case, it is perverse. Lesbians, for example, are more welcome than most as blood donors. They have a lower infection rate than even heterosexual women.
Yet the argument goes deeper. There are many questions asked by blood agencies. Which countries have you visited, have you suffered from various diseases, have you been an intravenous drug user, have you been sexually active as a heterosexual in a way that could increase the risk of AIDS infection?
I, for one, cannot give blood because I lived in Britain until 1987, when Mad Cow Disease was to be found in some of the meat supply. The chances of infection are tiny, but the risks are too great to take chances.
Quite right. Nobody's child should receive infected blood simply because someone was upset by what they considered to be a politically incorrect question. Goodness me, no gay man should face the risk of receiving tainted blood because another gay men's self-esteem was dented by an essential and responsible inquiry.
The essence of all this is that the privileges of the few have become more important than the rights of the many. The comfort level of someone with a particular sexual orientation matters more than life itself. Of course, all blood is checked and there is hardly any chance of HIV or AIDS infected blood reaching the blood banks. But any expert will tell you about the problems of the delayed appearance of infection. Just one mistake could be fatal. We need as many safeguards as possible.
Being gay is not the point. The blood agencies could not care less about a person's sexual orientation. They do care, however, if someone has had anal sex. It is a simple fact that such intercourse makes both partners more open to infection than normal sexual contact. Only a fool, or perhaps a homophobe, would deny the devastation caused to gay men by AIDS. Condoms are not universally safe and are not universally used.
Truth, however, is always safe and should always be used. It could save your life. Even if it does involve answering a question or two. And asking tough, important questions is something Canadian journalists in particular seem increasingly frightened of doing.
Coren can be booked for public speaking engagements at www.michaelcoren.com.
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