1. a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one's reputation.
Archaic . a mark made by a branding iron on the skin of a criminal or slave.
One of the problems with discussing HIV/AIDS is that you always have to go to the history. The history of AIDS in the West is a pretty disgusting. The mistreatment of those infected with HIV in the United States and Great Britain is pretty well recorded - I personally like Simon Watney's book Imagine Hope: AIDS and Gay Identity
as both a perspective and a critical reading of AIDS.
Because like it or not, HIV/AIDS has been a huge influence on queer culture, queer relationships and the way we conceptualise HIV/AIDS as a social phenomenon.
In my previous post
I wrote about the frustration regarding the notion that those who are discriminated against bear the responsibility with regards to their "image", in other words, that gays (and lesbians and bisexuals and trans* people and queers in general) are partially themselves to blame when it comes to the stigma we are forced to live with.
My anger at that concept and the conceptualisation that we are deviant in essence because of our incompatibility with heteronormative gender-binary and male supremacist culture, has not waned - if anything, hearing the panel and discussion last night about the discriminatory paragraph that prevents gays and men who have/had sex with men (MSM) from donating blood, has strengthened my opinion regarding the wrongful notion of what HIV/AIDS means in the gay community in Israel.
Because you see, the QUILTBAG (let's be honest, the gay) Outreach Branch of the Israel AIDS Task Force
(Hebrew) goes along with the letter coming out of the Ministry of Health and the Israeli Blood Bank guidelines (which go in accordance to the Red Cross, the FDA and the other US and Canadian blood donation organisations). The guidelines are Zero Tolerance to risk groups.
Now, I know, after 20 years and the migration of crisis (supposedly) Gays should not be regarded as a risk group - after all, HIV doesn't discriminate and statistics show that nearly half of HIV+ people are women.
I'd also add that in my locale - there is a sweeping ban (Zero Tolerance) with regards to people who have immigrated from Africa (meaning the major Ethiopian community living here can't donate blood) and drug users who use needle and snorting paraphernalia to consume the drugs.
The "dregs of society". Not much has changed in 20 years, right? The weakest and most disenfranchised members of society are also the most susceptible to disease and lack of treatment (not such a huge problem in Israel, as treatment for HIV is well funded due to our partial public health services).
However, HIV is a huge and growing problem within the Israeli gay (gay men and MSM) community. Whereas in the other groups that are prohibited from donating there is a stabilising trend (and even a reduction in infection), gays and MSM have risen steadily over the past eight years.
The disproportion between the percentage of HIV+ among gay men in accordance to their actual number in the general population is staggering.
In the last year, 140 new positives were identified through blood donations alone - all of them were from men who had had unsafe sex with other men.
in 2010, in a country with public health service, progressive legislation (via court precedences and not parliamentary bills, I have to say) regarding queer rights and banks on gay tourism, the statistics are truly horrific.
A 40% rise in less than ten years. Fucking hell.
The representative from the AIDS Task Force was adamant regarding the ban and acknowledged that while the language is discriminatory (there's no escaping that) gays and MSM in Israel create a higher risk of infection due to positive blood entering the blood bank - the HIV test in top of the market - reducing the detection window from three months to 11 days - still, he said, there are those who always want to skew the statistics and will come to donate 8 days after a careless encounter - the guy didn't show a whole lot of faith when it comes to humanity. I'm inclined to agree.
To me, the rise in positives in the gay community shows a failing in sex and health education and a lackadaisical attitude when it comes to practising safe sex - apparently there's also a syphilis epidemic rampaging through the Tel-Aviv gay community - oh, yeah, great sex tourist spot!
All of this. Everything. None of that has anything to do with the fact queers are maligned and discriminated against as a population within a hetronormative society.
The fact that HIV can be found in higher concentration among gays and MSM in Israel doesn't mean the discriminatory clause if legitimate - but opening up the form to interpretation as to what safe sex is (because let's face it, safe sec is not
just putting on a rubber before tab a goes into slot b - reductive sex acts are reductive) is not something worth the public health risk.
Prior to last night I was sure that the clause also prevented gays and MSM from being insured by the blood bank should something happen and they would need a transfusion. You see in Israel - due to us being all social and shit - grant a year's worth of blood insurance with every donation (people who have donated 10 pints get life long insurance) - positive people can be insured, they can go and donate and mark the box that says "Not for Transfusion" and the blood is then either chucked or taken to be studied, but that person in insured.
This is something, I think, most people in Israel aren't aware of.
Now, what to do about the fact that in 2010 so HIV is back to being on a steep rise among gay men and MSM in Israel? Sex education has to be overhauled. Badly. This is not a gay issue, this is an overall social issue. But it is pertinent for gays and queers in general.
The definition of sex needs to be inclusive and not exclusive and needs to be spoken about in a candid way - sex is not a hunky dory activity, even if it is generally speaking fun - anyone can catch an STD. AIDS is stigmatised due to history, alas.
So, while my opinion regarding HIV/AIDS and the stigma attached to the disease due to homophobia has not changed, because Christ, how the fuck can one excuse homophobia in any way, shape and form. My opinion regarding the clause is that it's really the least of our problems. It is a minuscule issue when one looks at the statistics and you go "What the fuck?!".
The blood bank, rightfully, doesn't want to open itself up to risk.
The risk for a gay man to be infected is higher than a straight man or straight woman or a gay woman, simply because there are more gays and MSM who are
positive - that's the issue. The blood donor clause is so far down on the list of concerns, I feel kind of silly that I've ever made a big deal out of it.