My name is Steven Kuzan. I am 23, and I am a nurse's aide. My blood type is B positive -- a comparatively rare type only possessed by 9 percent of the world's population. I have witnessed many cases where patients needed blood -- amputations, severe burns -- but I have never been able to help. Even if my blood type is rare and could be helpful to many people, I cannot follow my colleagues and donate: my country forbids me from saving lives. Why? I'm gay.
These are the laws in France in 2015. Since the 1980s, a ministerial order has forbidden all "men having or having had sexual relations with another man, no matter how long ago" from giving blood for life, the same rules that apply to drug addicts and HIV-positive patients. Is homosexuality still considered an illness by the French government? The national blood bank urgently needs donations. Why exclude gay people, who represent a solution to this public health problem?
Last July, the general attorney of the European Court of Justice announced that homosexuality didn't justify this ban and defined the French legislation as discriminatory. When I read this in the press, I thought that French President François Hollande was going to have to honor the promise he made in 2012 to lift the ban. But nothing has changed; neither he nor the minister of health, Marisol Touraine, have reacted to this news.
Almost 9 months ago, I decided to act, to condemn these discriminatory laws. I am not linked to a political party or organization, nor am I an expert in this field. But I am outraged at the discrimination that we complacently allow. I started a petition on change.org, "Yes to blood donations for all," to draw attention to this problem -- and get rid of this discriminatory and dangerous regulation.
Over 150,000 people have since signed my petition, a number I never thought I could reach. The signatures started flowing in, along with media coverage. I am not at ease on TV, but I went along with it. Word got out and sixty or so associations, syndicates and political organizations such as the charity The Refuge, the Left Party and the LGBT Centre of Touraine have given me their support.
What I am most proud of is that this rallying has allowed this public health issue to exit the sphere of the LGBT community and prompt the government, as well as society at large, to look into it.
On Friday, April 3rd, the National Assembly voted for Amendment 1289 to the Health Law, stating that "no one can be excluded from donating blood due to their sexual orientation." This beautiful gesture may reassure me, but in reality, it doesn't change the regulation: gays and bisexuals are still prohibited from giving blood, since this issue depends on regulation, not on law. For this discrimination to end, it requires a ministerial decree from Marisol Touraine.
I am making a call for action to Marisol Touraine: handle this case once and for all and make this decree to finally put an end to this unjustified discrimination! The amendment is a good thing, but I am counting on you not to do things by halves. Don't place ridiculous periods of abstinence reserved only for homosexuals, like in Canada (5 years) or the United Kingdom (1 year). This is simply another way of "allowing" gay blood donation without truly allowing it. The measures in place for heterosexual donors are largely sufficient (no donation within 4 months of unsafe sex, each blood bag is tested, etc) since there has been no case of HIV transmission from a blood transfusion for several years now. Just because a man feels passion for another man does not mean he has unsafe sex. To say that would be as discriminatory as the current regulation.
I don't want to have to lie to give blood. I don't want to have to hide who I am to help my kin. I do not need to be embarrassed about who I am to save lives.
I am counting on you, Madame Touraine, to take into account the feelings of thousands of homosexuals and bisexuals who, like me, are fed up with being kept at the margins of society.
France is a beautiful country, a defender of human rights and equality. It is our responsibility to promote these values, necessary to cohesion and living together. France needs to be, more than ever, a leading example in the fight against discrimination.
Update: The health minister of France, Marisol Touraine, announced on Sunday April 12th that she may be instituting changes in the questionnaire provided to potential blood donors, declaring that ""It is not acceptable that sexual orientation is seen as an exclusion criterion."
This post was originally published on HuffPost France and was translated into English.
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