A lawsuit challenging a ban on gay blood donations arrived at Georgia’s Constitutional Court on June 25. An LGBT rights group Identoba (Identity), joined by several individual plaintiffs, is suing the Health Ministry over a 2000 decree that declared homosexual men ineligible for blood donations.
Similar restrictions are in place in many other countries, including the United States, because homosexual sexual contact is seen as carrying a higher risk of transmitting HIV/AIDS, and blood testing procedures for the HIV virus are not considered perfect.
The plaintiffs in the Georgian case are taking issue with the wording of the Health Ministry statute, which specifically targets homosexual men, and not all men who have sex with other men (MSM).
The distinction may get a little blurry, but it makes a big difference for LGBT rights activists in Georgia, who believe the Georgian version of the ban is discriminatory and runs counter to the nation’s Constitution. Identoba, like many similar groups around the world, argues that sexual behavior, not sexual orientation, puts a person at a higher risk of HIV/AIDS infection. To go further down this line of reasoning, anti-ban activists contend that a gay man is not eligible to donate blood in Georgia, whether or not he has ever had sex with another man.
The Health Ministry claims that the ban does not specifically target homosexuals, but pertains to any man who has had sexual relations with another man. Ministry representatives contend that the term homosexual is used simply as an operational definition in the decree.
The court case is largely seen as a symbolic gesture in conservative Georgia, where homosexuality is mostly closeted and very few gay men, much less MSM, choose to publicly disclose their sexual preferences. The country experienced a spasm of violence against LGBT rights activists in May. In response to the May attack, however, public support has grown for the LGBT rights cause.