Did an Italian Hospital Turn Away a Lesbian Blood Donor?

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Alessandra Benedetti / Corbis

A crowd gathers at a gay-pride event in Rome on June 11, 2011. Gay-rights activists say that homosexuality should not be a reason to exclude someone from donating blood

This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global-news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in La Stampa.

Donating blood is one more civic act that Italian gay-rights activists now say must be explicitly protected by law. The latest controversy comes after a woman in Rome says she was not allowed to give blood at one of the city's largest hospitals because she is a lesbian.

The 39-year-old accounting-firm employee, referred to as Angela, says she was told by a hospital official at Policlinico Umberto I that she is "considered at risk" because of her personal life. The woman says she has had a monogamous relationship with another woman for more than the 120 days required to exclude the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

"There is no law that bans homosexuals from donating blood," said Gabriella Girelli, director of the blood-transfusion center at Umberto I. "In general, at-risk people cannot do it. It's up to the examining doctor to determine the risk on the base of the information provided."

Roberto Stocco, spokesman for the Rome chapter of the Arcigay association, says denying someone the possibility to donate blood is a violation of Italian law. He adds that he is skeptical about Girelli's claim that she cannot refer to the specifics of the case to protect patient privacy.

"It is an exercise in stupidity," says Ivan Scalfarotto, an official for the opposition Democratic Party. "Since AIDS is transmitted via blood and sperm, lesbians are considered not at risk."

This is not the first time this issue has come to the fore in Italy, with similar denials in the northern city of Pordenone in 2007 and Milan in 2010. Another opposition politician and activist, Paola Concia, says she will take the issue to Parliament.

"We want to put it down by law that homosexuality is not an element that should exclude someone from donating blood," she says. "Some institutes use 'safety' to hide their anti-gay prejudices, forgetting the real risk of 9 million straight Italian men who frequent prostitutes."

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