New Zealand GLBT rights group Rainbow Wellington is challenging the NZ Blood Service’s policy of banning sexually active gay men from giving blood regardless of whether they practice safe sex or not.

Before 2007 a gay man had to abstain from both anal and oral sex for 10 years, regardless of whether he practiced safe sex, in order to give blood.

Under the current guidelines gay men must abstain from any kind of sex for five years, regardless of condom use, before they can donate.

In comparison, heterosexual New Zealanders may give blood regardless of the number of sexual partners they have unprotected sex with, and straight New Zealanders who have slept with, or worked as, sex workers in NZ must only abstain for a year before giving blood regardless of condom use.

As in Australia, donor blood in New Zealand is tested before being put into the blood supply.

Rainbow Wellington has taken the Blood Service to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. The case will be heard on February 11.

However, the group is doing so without the support of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, which supports the ban.

“All New Zealanders, including gay men, benefit from a blood supply that is completely free from HIV, not one that is mostly free,” the NZ AIDS Foundation’s national communications coordinator, Dawn O’Connor, told Southern Star.

A spokesperson for the NZ Blood Service claimed the policy was not discriminatory as it excluded all men who had sex with men, not just those who identified with a particular orientation.

“The MSM deferral criteria are behavioural and are based on what people do or have done,” the spokesperson said. “They are not based on such issues as sexual orientation.”

Earlier this year a HIV positive Waitakere District man was sentenced to three and a half years in prison after repeatedly having unprotected sex with a girlfriend he had told he was disease-free.

Portugal, Spain, Italy and France have all switched to a policy of screening donors based on safe sex practice rather than sexual orientation, without reporting a deterioration in their blood supplies.
Andrew M. Potts

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