Sunday, September 18, 2005

Tumhara khoon khoon hai aur hamara khoon...? Or why is blood donation by gay men unwelcome?

I started donating blood in my first year of college (in the mid-'80s). This became an annual practice for five years since the college had yearly blood collection drives. There was little awareness of HIV then, among people generally and I myself was pretty ignorant. I also donated blood a couple of times after graduation as a 'replacement donor' when dad was hospitalized twice (the first time in a Mumbai hospital and the second in a suburban nursing home).

The second time it involved traveling to a blood bank in a distant Mumbai suburb. On both occasions I had to fill in a form that more or less has a standard questionnaire about the donor's previous medical history. I am not sure about the first instance but the second time (at the blood bank) one of the questions was about (I do not remember the exact verbiage or the year in the question) whether the (male) donor has had sex with a man after 197x.

Was the bloodbank or the government (presuming that was the govt.'s idea to put that question) expecting an honest answer to that from anyone? Well, I gave an honest answer. I admit I was a little scared -- not of being outed -- but of being prosecuted under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code for "unnatural sex".

I got away with it the first time and the next few times that the bloodbank requested my blood (they would call me every few months--I have one of the rarer blood groups).

Someone at the bloodbank actually noticed my answer one time, it seems. They did not take my blood that time. A few weeks later they called me again and I told them that I did not want to come because they have rejected my blood for being gay. Apparently, the person on the other end of the phone line was as shocked as the one who had noticed my affirmative answer previously, and hung up without a word.

I did not donate blood since then, until last year, at my workplace. In spite of being handed a list of (dos and) don'ts that listed sex between men (there was no mention of this on the questionnaire, though).

I do not know what the current official policy is blood donation by 'practicing' gay men, but I was happy that I could help out a patient at a major Bombay hospital who needed blood recently, without killing myself about being dishonest--there was no question this time about my sexuality! Stupid bloodbank or enlightened policy?

It may be true that anal sex without a condom is high-risk behavior as far as HIV and sexually transmitted infections are concerned. But isn't it also true that peno-vaginal sex without condoms are almost as unsafe? So why stop gay men from donating blood when we hear of chronic blood shortages in this country?

Incidentally, methinks screening donated blood for HIV is redundant because of the 'window period'.

Many countries ban blood donation by gay men (does anyone know India's position?), but recently this has been challenged in Tasmania, Australia, as reported last month.

Perhaps we are some years away from decriminalizing homosexuality in India and the blood donation ban. Meanwhile, gay men will die from lack of access to information on HIV and health resources. And heterosexuals will die from lack of gay blood.

Sullivan on the Catholic Church's latest Gay Hunt

The Vatican's plan to exclude gay priests (even those celibate). The news first appeared apparently in the National Catholic Register newspaper: Here's an extract from another report by Laurie Goodstein in the NYTimes of September 15, 2005: "Vatican to Check U.S. Seminaries on Gay Presence":

Investigators appointed by the Vatican have been instructed to review each of the 229 Roman Catholic seminaries in the United States for "evidence of homosexuality" and for faculty members who dissent from church teaching, according to a document prepared to guide the process.

The Vatican document, given to The New York Times yesterday by a priest, surfaces as Catholics await a Vatican ruling on whether homosexuals should be barred from the priesthood.

In a possible indication of the ruling's contents, the American archbishop who is supervising the seminary review said last week that "anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity or has strong homosexual inclinations," should not be admitted to a seminary.

Edwin O'Brien, archbishop for the United States military, told The National Catholic Register that the restriction should apply even to those who have not been sexually active for a decade or more.

And now Andrew Sullivan's reactions on his blog on September 13:

NOT EVEN WHEN CELIBATE: The Vatican document will appear probably by the end of the year, but it appears that the decision has been made. The key point-man for reform of seminaries in the U.S., Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, has now made it clear that, in his words,

"I think anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity, or has strong homosexual inclinations, would be best not to apply to a seminary and not to be accepted into a seminary." ... Archbishop O'Brien, who is coordinating the visits to more than 220 U.S. seminaries and houses of formation, said even homosexuals who have been celibate for 10 or more years should not be admitted to seminaries.

The AP version of the story, where O'Brien prettifies his language, confirms the story. The reason? A response to the appalling clerical abuse of children and minors. Conflating homosexual orientation with pedophilia, and arguing that homosexual priests cannot be expected to maintain celibacy or refrain from raping children or minors, even if they have demonstrated such an ability for up to a decade or more, O'Brien takes the Catholic Church's pretzel-like position on homosexuality to a new level of incoherence. Notice that what is being discriminated against here is not someone's actions or behavior, but their very identity. Notice that the church is implying complete lack of self-control to all gay priests, regardless of their record or potential. Notice that in 1986, the Church officially rebutted the idea that gay men, let alone gay priests, cannot be expected to be celibate, let alone molest children. The notion that all gay men are sexually compulsive was, in the words of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, an "unfounded and demeaning assumption." That "unfounded and demeaning assumption" is now church policy. The 1986 document also proclaimed that the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation.

Yet all seminarians are now to be reduced and judged solely on their sexual orientation. Some of the basic principles of the Catholic faith - treating each individual as equally worthy in God's eyes, judging people by what they do, not who they are - are being violated by this policy. The astonishing work of gay priests across the centuries and across the globe is being denied and stigmatized and ignored. This is a huge stain on the church - reminiscent of its long, terrible history of anti-Semitism.

HOW TO RESPOND? When you inhabit an institution which is governed by absolute authority, when its current gay priests - who may make up a third of all priests and bishops - have been ordered to be silent about their orientation, when they are forbidden from even dissenting openly about this disgusting new policy, it is up to the laity to respond. This is not just about homosexuality. It is about the integrity of Catholicism as a faith that abhors bigotry of any kind, that demonizes no one, that welcomes all to God's banquet, that actually fights against injustice, rather than instituting and enforcing it. The imposition of bigotry is made all the worse, since it is primarily focused on scapegoating all homosexuals for the actions of a minority of child molesters, while leaving heterosexual child molesters free of any communal guilt, and protecting every heterosexual and homosexual authority figure who covered up the crimes of so many years and decades. I've been following the Church's position on gay people for much of my adult life and can honestly say that this is something I never expected and a wound I never believed would be inflicted. To bar gay people in committed relationships from the church is one thing. To bar even celibate, faithful gays from the priesthood is quite another. It is also implicitly a statement that no gay man can, in practice, live a celibate life, which is to say that the entire basis of the Church's doctrine about how gay men and women should live is false. If the church cannot expect celibacy from one of its own priests who has successfully stayed celibate for over a decade, what does it expect of the rest of us? Under this pope, I think, homosexual persons have become inherently morally sick, Untermenschen in his own language, moral lepers incapable of self-governance and liable to make the church "unclean." They cannot marry or form stable relationships; they cannot remain celibate; and they are all potential molesters of children. What other logical inferences are possible from this new policy?