Rekha*, a transgender from India, once donated blood to an anemic infant. The much-needed blood saved the infant’s life. The parents of the baby wanted to personally thank Rekha for her help. When they met her and found out that she is a transgender, their behaviour completely changed. They did not even let her see the baby.
Next day, Rekha and her friends found an infant lying in front of their door. It was the same baby Rekha had donated blood to. Rekha also found a note with the baby written by the parents. The note said that the baby was no longer fit to be part of their family since she had received blood from a transgender. The family worried that the baby will become “one of them” now since a transgender’s blood was running through her body.
Rekha later contacted the hospital to inquire about the baby. The hospital staff confirmed that it was the same baby from the previous day.
Rekha was shocked by this incident. But being a fighter that she is, she decided to adopt and raise the baby. Somewhere she could relate to the child. Rekha too was abandoned by her parents. After knowing that Rekha was not a boy as they always thought her to be, her parents disowned her.
Rekha found herself alone in this world, but she took this as an opportunity to explore more about herself.
“At first, I set out in a search for my inner self- sexually, philosophically, and morally. But as I moved out, I realised it wasn’t as easy as I had previously thought. Before I could finally make peace with myself, I found myself in the claws of social rules, which I was expected to follow as a transgender. But I did not give up and eventually, I discovered myself and thereafter carved out the artist within me. I believe that art is something which doesn’t set boundaries and allows you to express yourself freely,” said Rekha, who now runs an art gallery.
And when Rekha saw the newborn girl in front of her door that day, all her past bitter memories flashed in front of her. She decided that she wouldn’t let this child suffer like she did.
“I myself have gone through the pain of being rejected by one’s own family. I think I am connected to her by this bond,” Rekha said.
Today the girl is six years old and goes to a public school. Rekha and friends are her new family who tries to give her the best possible facilities.
But the incident left a deep impact on Rekha’s life. The little girl was the second person Rekha had donated blood to and the aftermath of the incident scarred Rekha for many years.
“I was unable to muster the courage for next four years. But eventually, I understood that I could not let the happiness of donating blood be overshadowed by the incident,” she recalled.
Rekha started speaking openly about the injustice being done to the third gender when it comes to blood donation. She started asking questions and continued donating blood.
However, the deep-rooted discrimination constantly reminds her of the bigoted behaviour of the society and the government.
An RTI has revealed that the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) considers the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and Queer (LGBT) community as a “high-risk group” (for HIV), thus banning them from donating blood.
Activist Srini Ramaswami said that ban is just one aspect of the bigger problem. “If we flip the coin we realise even when someone from the community is in need of blood people usually don’t come forward,” he said.
The ban is not new. In 2009, homosexuals were banned from donating blood at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi.
Speaking on the ban, social activist Harish Iyer added: “Ban is just pigmenting the community. Blood from even the straight people can be at high risk of HIV. If there is a loophole in the medical procedure, that needs to be standarised. With a ban, we are encouraging people to lie about their sexual identity thus further increasing the spread of HIV. Rather than treating a disease as a disease, we have somewhere started treating people as a disease. It does not need ban rather a voluntary appeal to the community to keep in concern the medical aspects.”
Does this mean that non-LGBTQ people are not exposed to “high risks”? If a straight person donates blood, is it offered to a beneficiary without testing? What then is the need to earmark an entire community as High Risk? Don’t the non-LGBT people engage in high-risk behaviour? Don’t they visit commercial sex workers? Do they not engage in drugs? Shouldn’t a uniform procedure be followed for everyone then?
While NACO has called LGBTQ as “high risk” and refrained them from donating blood, their National Blood Policy states that “Donor must be 18-60 years of age and have a minimum weight of 50Kg can donate blood. Any donor, who is healthy, fit and not suffering from any transmittable diseases can donate blood.”
Although National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA) act provides the LGBTQ community right to self identification and all other fundamental rights granted under the Indian constitution, Section 377 of Indian Penal Code undershades it by criminalising homosexuality. India’s Supreme Court gave the country’s LGBT community the freedom to safely express their sexual orientation. However, the Supreme Court did not directly overturn any laws criminalizing same-sex relationships.
The community still faces discrimination at the ground level because there is still no parallel connection between social and the legal acceptance. An Avert report says that HIV epidemic in India is driven by heterosexual sex, which accounted for 87% of new infections in 2015.
This bias is also stopping authorities to let healthy homosexuals donate blood.
“We are not just banned from donating blood, sometimes it feels as if they have banned issuing blood to our community as well. Whenever someone from our community is in need of blood, either their requests are turned down by the blood banks or they are charged very high prices or no donors turn up,” Rekha said.
On asking how people can support the cause and make blood donation easier for the LGBTQ community, Rekha said: “It’s not about making things easy. We are not against anything. We just hope that the system makes it easy for our community to get blood issued whenever we are in need of it.”
“Before expecting people to help us in this cause, we want them to solve the very problem of discriminating against the LGBTQ community. The discrimination is so deep-rooted that there seems to be little hope even for the future,” she added.
“As for me and my friends, we never stopped giving back to the society. We still go and donate blood with our identities hidden now of course,” she said.
What we need today from both government and the society is to accept the people of LGBTQ community. The deep-rooted discrimination can only be stopped if the gap is bridged between the community and the people. For things as simple and important as blood, no one should have to face such challenges.
You can support the cause by spreading the word about the issue and coming in support of the LGBTQ community. You can contact Khoon (an organization that aims to arrange blood for people in need), for any blood donation queries and support. Write to them at – email@example.com. and check out their Facebook page.
Personal details of Rekha have not been revealed due to privacy reasons.