Rome Hospital Accused Of Turning Away Lesbian Blood Donor

After the third such case in recent years, where health officials cite "risks" of gays giving blood, Italian gay rights activists say it's time to explicitly guarantee the right for people of all sexual orientations to donate bl

A gay rights rally in Milan (David Saltuari)
A gay rights rally in Milan (David Saltuari)


ROME – 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 added that he was 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, Paolo 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 said. "Some institutes use "safety" to hide their anti-gay prejudices, forgetting the real risk of 9 million straight Italian men who frequent prostitutes."

Read more from La Stampa in Italian

photo - David Saltuari

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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