Gay rights activists lodge EU complaint over French blood donor sex ban
Gay rights groups alleging discrimination have filed a complaint with the European Commission over a French ban on blood donations by gay men unless they abstain from sex for a year beforehand.
The move on Thursday, came three years after France lifted a 30-year ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, on condition they practise sexual abstinence for 12 months to guard against HIV transmission.
"This rule, which is still in place, effectively excludes 93.8 percent of gay men from donating blood," said a joint statement by Stop Homophobie, Mousse, ELCS (Local officials against AIDS), SOS Homophobie and Familles LGBT.
The complainants hope that the policy will be formally recognised as illegal discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Until July 2016, gay and bisexual men were not allowed to donate blood at all under a ban introduced in 1983 shortly after the HIV virus was discovered.
It is a sensitive issue in France, where hundreds of people died in the 1980s after HIV-tainted blood was distributed by the national blood transfusion centre.
This law "creates uncertainty in law for LGBT individuals because it makes discrimination possible on the basis of sexual behaviour", said lawyer Etienne Deshoulieres, who represents both the groups and an individual named in the complaint, identified only as "Maxime".
Earlier this month, Maxime went to give blood at a centre in the outskirts of Paris and told staff taking his details he had been in a relationship for 18 months.
"The doctor told me that was problematic, that I couldn't give blood," said Maxime adding that he was advised to make a plasma donation instead.
The former member of the security forces said he “felt humiliated” and explained that he had also filed a complaint with the office of France's human rights defender.
He said he and others were immediately categorized as “gay therefore banned.”
The head of the French national blood donation service, Stephane Noel, said it was understandable that a prospective donor "could be disappointed, not to be able to donate blood”.
He said doctors working for the service underwent "significant training" in order to explain "with great sensitivity and respect... what leads us to refuse such donors”.
Last year, a similar complaint was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that it undermined the fundamental human rights of gay and bisexual blood donors.
Lawyer Patrice Spinosi says that complaint is still pending.