490 people who had HIV in 2012 died according to report by Public Health England. The Genito-urinary medicine (GUM) department of the Royal Preston Hospital deals with sexual infection like HIV and tries to treat those who have them. It is where those who are worried about infection can go to have a screening to be sure if they are infected or not. Upon arrival, each person is asked to fill out a double-sided form, which asks for general details on one side, but on the other it asks for information on your sexual activities. The first question is whether you (as a man) have slept with another man either through anal or oral sex. If you answer yes to that, you are given the full screening without needing to request it. However if you are a heterosexual, this is not the case. As a heterosexual, you are not offered the HIV/AIDS screening which requires blood be taken, unless you request it.
In Public Health England’s “HIV in the United Kingdom: 2013 Report” it is estimated that around 100,000 people were living with HIV in 2012. HIV, according to aids.gov stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It weakens your immune system by destroying the cells that help defend against diseases and infection, which can then lead to having the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
The group that remains most affected by HIV infection is men who have sex with men (MSM). In 2012 there was an estimated 47,000 living with HIV. Around 7000 of those are unaware that they are living with the disease.
These figures could be the reason for the ban on MSM from donating blood. Originally if a man had sex with another man through anal or oral sex, then he was banned from donating blood for life. However in 2011, the rules were reformed for England, Wales and Scotland. Now a gay or bisexual man can donate blood if they have remained celibate for 12 months. However in Northern Ireland, the life ban is still in place.
Through a Freedom of Information request to the NHS Blood and Transplant service, which deals with blood donations, revealed that all blood that is donated goes through a screening process. The process is to find any markers of five infections. Those infections are hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis and human T-cell lymphotropic virus. Additional testing is performed if there is reported history by the donor such as piercings or travel to places that have diseases such as malaria. In 2012, there were 2,043,479 donations and out of that, there were only 4.389 discarded donations.
There are those who oppose the ban. Pinknews.com reported that Green Party MEP, Caroline Lucas called the rules discriminatory against gay and bisexual men. “Not that long ago the rules were improved, but it’s still the case that gay men are discriminated against – and it prevents gay men from giving others the freedom to live.”
In August 2014, Conservative MP, Michael Fabricant echoed Caroline Lucas’s words, telling BBC’s Radio 4 that the rules were old-fashioned and discriminatory. The BBC reported “He said if the UK wanted to be "totally safe", then "neither straight people nor gay people who have had unsafe sex should give blood within 12 months".”
Ben,22, a trainee accountant from Preston admitted that at school hadn’t been taught about HIV or AIDS and he had been forced to self-teach himself on the subject. He believes that there needs to be more education on the subject and that the ban remains because there is still a stigma around gay men from the AIDS pandemic. “I believe this is a stigma generated from the aids/HIV "pandemic" there needs to be more educating - how does singling gay men out from giving blood stop a straight man with HIV giving blood - secondly it is my understanding they test blood given before it goes into storage so surely at that point you would destroy any blood that was contaminated.”
The BBC reported a government advisor said the rules were there for the safety of the blood.
Metro’s Youth Chances report states that only 25% of LGBTQ young people reported they learnt anything at school about safer sex for male couples. A third of 12-17 year olds think that they can’t catch HIV through unprotected sex. That is according to a survey of 1000 young people, by the HIV/AIDS charity, MAC AIDS Fund.
Kristian is a copywriter for FS Magazine (Fit and Sexy) and he wrote an article entitled “How could you not know what HIV is?” He thinks that simply education children about the mechanics of sex, he believes you need be “educating people about sexual self-esteem, and relationships, and having the right to say no is what sex education should also be about.” Only through educating young people about respecting themselves and their body and their partner’s body and wishes, will sexual health become safer.
The other aspect of LGBTQ health that is a worry is mental health, particularly among young people. The Youth Chances survey states that 42% of respondents admitted seeking medical help for anxiety and depression. In comparison, only 27% of heterosexual non-trans respondents reported seeking medical help.
A lesbian from South East England described to the survey her experience of being bullied at school and how that resulted in anxiety and depression. “When I was at school I told a couple of friends that I was bisexual at the time and word got out and the whole school thought I was a lesbian… but when this leaked out at school I got horrifically bullied by the majority of pupils in my year. The school, well they did nothing about it! Ever since I’ve struggled with my confidence and suffered anxiety and depression.”
Over half of the LGBTQ who responded to the Youth Chances survey admitted to self-harming either presently or in the past. But more worrying, 44% admitted to having suicidal thoughts. The study states that, “The rates of self-harm and suicidal ideation reported by both groups exceed national statistics, suggesting an alarming rise in the prevalence of poor mental health amongst all young people.”