Competition: win a case of Barefoot Wines | So So Gay magazine

Californian winery Barefoot Wine has a bit of a reputation for loving the LGBT community. Since 2008 the brand has been supporting Pride events throughout the UK, and this year is no exception; Liverpool Pride enjoyed a visit from the Barefoot Bar last weekend, and Brighton will enjoy the same presence this weekend. At Barefoot’s bars you can enjoy a drop of anything from the brand’s crisp Pinot Grigio to its plummy Shiraz or sweet and creamy Moscato; we know where we’ll be on Saturday!

But Barefoot means even more to Brighton than just a chance for a few Pride-goers to enjoy a drop of red, white or rosé. Reflecting the winery’s Californian heritage, Barefoot has been working on an international beach clean-up operation which has reached the UK in recent years. Barefoot has staged concerts and an LGBT Beach Volleyball series to support the campaign – and, as you might expect, Brighton often found itself right at the heart of the action.

To celebrate Barefoot Wines’ unique efforts to support environmentalism and the LGBT community, So So Gay is pleased to be able to offer one lucky winner a mixed case of Barefoot Wine – simply fill in the form below and submit it by midday on Sunday 14 August to be in with a chance. Good luck!

This competition has now closed.


London Riots comment: We Love London

We don’t need to describe to you what happened in London overnight. Anyone within range of a TV screen, radio or Twitter feed will know about the violence, the arson and the chaos. You’ll have seen newspapers’ front pages turned orange by photos of burning buildings. You might even have seen those actual buildings, blackened with soot, littered with tossed bricks and broken glass. These are people’s livelihoods. People woke up today not knowing if they needed to go to work or stay home and board up their windows. What the hell?

We love London. Who, after all, couldn’t be excited about living somewhere as lively, beautiful and quirky as our capital city? Here we have great galleries, stunning monuments and the turbulent bustle of urban markets. For every ancient building we have something strikingly new – a Shard to every Tower of London, often close enough for visitors and city-dwellers to be able to reflect on a metropolis whose history extends over a thousand years. New York might have its Manhattan and its Brooklyn; we have Mayfair and Brick Lane, and countless other places so old and so diverse that the very fact they coexist could make your head spin.

Coexistence, indeed, is something we seem to do rather well in London. We can celebrate multiracial diversity at the Notting Hill Festival without much trouble, facing down past decades of suspicion between communities. We stage hundreds of football, rugby, tennis and other sports events every year, where the hooliganism of the Eighties and Nineties is just a bad memory. And for us, Pride shows that London couldn’t give a toss about your sexuality, as long as you feel you can be free to be who you are.

Do the riots show that all of that – the coexistence, the vibrancy – is just a paper-thin veneer masking deep tensions? In part, that’s probably true. There are definitely parts of London where lifelong poverty, low educational attainment and a feeling of isolation from society go hand-in-hand with gun crime and wariness of authority. The temptation is to take sides; to claim that it’s all the rioters’ fault for not behaving like ‘normal’ people, or that it’s all the government’s fault for cuts and overbearing policing. The truth, we suspect, lies somewhere in between.

We live in a country where we are policed by consent. That absolutely depends upon a social contract between police who agree selflessly to protect all communities, and people who agree to act like responsible, lawful citizens. When we look at the stories emerging of people who lash out at police after being stopped and searched for the umpteenth time, we see that social contract collapsing. Police overstepping the mark, making unfair assumptions about young people – and those young people, unrestrained by effective education or parenting, thinking it’s fine to gather on the streets to launch violent protests.

Where should we lay the blame? With the police or parents? Labour or the Tories? Young people or community leaders? It is almost literally impossible to assign blame at all; we wonder if it might even be futile. Recent ‘debates’ on Twitter have been little more than left-right-left-right political point-scoring. That fails to underline what we all agree on: that we love London, and that we don’t intend to be cowed by violent disorder.

While politicians demonise an entire class of young people, while tired police haul themselves on to the streets for another night of anarchy, while thugs don balaclavas and business owners reach for the shutters, trying to second-guess who is at fault will achieve nothing. We need to look to the future. We love London, and we can’t rebuild it by yelling at each other. Whatever happens tonight, wherever it happens, perhaps we should think about pulling together rather than letting the horrors of the past few nights pull us apart.


Theatre Review: The Wolf (Network Theatre, London) | So So Gay magazine

Rating: ****

When we last saw the Sturdy Beggars they were excelling in a madcap production of Witold Gombrowicz’s absurdist masterpiece, Ivona, Princess of Burgundia – the first of three ‘forgotten gems’ of east European theatre being staged as part of the theatre company’s Brain Drain season. Part two of that season sees the Beggars return to the intimate and tucked-away space of the Network Theatre under the arches of Waterloo, for a production of Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár’s The Wolf. It’s an impressive and solid production, which has earned the Beggars a well-deserved Offies nomination for Best Ensemble.

Wheedling lawyer Eugene Kelemen (Brendan Jones) is clearly punching above his weight, having married the beautiful Vilma (Katherine French). Unable to accept Vilma’s promises of fidelity, Eugene’s repugnant neuroticism finds ready confirmation when a character from his wife’s past – George Szabo (Alexander Andreou), her failed suitor – returns to Budapest to stake his claim to Vilma’s heart. The stage is set for a thoroughly bizarre set of meetings between the trio, showing that love, fame, lust and power can make peculiar and dangerous bedfellows.

At the heart of Molnár’s play is a sharp critique of the human psyche’s capabilities for paranoia and betrayal; it takes a strong company to be able to play the different facets of human emotion that the text demands. The Sturdy Beggars are more than up to the task. Jones gives a tensely paranoid edge to Eugene’s obsessive devotion to Vilma from the outset, while Katherine French imbues Vilma with a deft blend of bemusement, lust and, ultimately, superficial iciness. Alex Andreou again proves himself to be a master of the small stage, delivering a performance by turns frenetic, passionate, demented, lecherous and meek as the emotionally shapeless George Szabo. Other players, too, acquit themselves marvellously. In particular, Josie Martin delivers a comic tour-de-force as a socially outraged Countess; every facial tic and breathlessly horrified exclamation was a delight to behold.

Although the writing at times strays a little too closely to bland melodrama, there are enough notes of surrealism and comedy to keep the show buoyant, and enough brooding to maintain the ever-present sense that all is not going to end well. The play’s eponymous metaphor is drawn from a bedtime story delivered by Eugene to his and Vilma’s son. The scene where this metaphor is introduced was palpably dark and threatening, easily demonstrating JMK-winning director Jamie Harper’s confidence with mixing drama and comedy without descending into hamminess or melodrama.

With just one more show left in the Sturdy Beggars’ Brain Drain season, the company has again set itself a high standard to exceed. The Wolf is a mordantly funny, bleakly tragic and finely acted gem, and the Beggars worthy nominees for an Offie. Do try to catch this before its run ends on 6 September.

Ferenc Molnár’s The Wolf plays at the Network Theatre, 246A Lower Road ,Waterloo, SE1 8SJ, until 6 September. Tickets cost £15 (£10 for concessions) and are available online.


Lords warn about ‘woefully inadequate’ government policies on HIV

A House of Lords Select Committee today published a damning report on HIV in the UK, warning that the current priority given to HIV and Aids treatment by policy makers is ‘woefully inadequate’, and revealing that over 100,000 people in the UK will be living with the disease by next year. The Lords Select Committee on HIV and Aids in the UK also warned that the total cost of treatment would soon top £1 billion per year, and called for all new patients at GPs’ surgeries to be tested for the illness on an opt-out basis.

As the Select Committee published its report, the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) released a new plan to help policy makers deal more effectively with HIV. THT said that the plan, ‘Tackling the Spread of HIV in the UK’, would help to bring down the disease’s transmission, and reduce the financial burden on the NHS by concentrating on four actions: halving undiagnosed and late diagnosed infections within three years; increasing the number of people living with HIV taking effective treatment from half to two-thirds in three years; identifying people who persistently take risks that expose them to HIV, and supporting them to change; and increasing HIV awareness.

THT’s Executive Director of Health Improvement, Genevieve Edwards, told So So Gay she was sure that it was possible to reduce transmission by improving early diagnosis and awareness. ‘Increasing the number of people on treatment is quite do-able, if you think that a quarter of people with HIV aren’t diagnosed,’ she said. ‘Many of those people have already gone past the point at which they should receive treatment. If we can start people on the right treatment sooner, that would go an awfully long way to achieving the target.’

Edwards welcomed the Lords’ recommendation that new patients at GPs’ clinics should be tested on an opt-out basis, especially in areas where infection is more common. ‘This has been done in ante-natal screening, and that’s been one of the big successes in the UK. Very few babies are born with HIV as a result of that campaign, because women who are diagnosed with HIV during pregnancy can be offered the right sort of treatment. So when you’re in an area of high HIV prevalence, this makes sense.’

The Lords Select Committee launched its report to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the iconic ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ campaign, which was run by the Committee’s Chairman, Lord Fowler – as the then Health Secretary. As the report was published, Fowler pointed out that although HIV was now more survivable than it was in the 1980s, it remained a serious problem and not enough was being done to improve awareness; one recent survey had found that a quarter of young people had received no information about HIV in the classroom.

‘In the last 25 years the development of new drugs has dramatically reduced the death toll,’ he said. ‘But that should not encourage a false sense of security. Serious medical and mental health problems remain for many with HIV. People can now live with HIV, but all of those infected would prefer to be without a disease which can cut short life and cast a shadow over their everyday life.’

Edwards echoed Fowler’s warning about the consequences of infection, but warned against a return to ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ style scare tactics. ‘Our evidence shows that scare tactics – not just for HIV, incidentally, but for all public health areas – don’t work. People tend to look away, or immediately think it’s aimed at someone else. So while that sort of direct campaign in the 1980s was hugely influential, it wouldn’t have the same impact today. We’ve learned that we need to find different ways to get that message across.

‘Of course, we have to be absolutely clear about the reality of living with HIV in the UK. Treatments have come a long way, and they’re enormously better than they were. But it’s not without consequence. I think we’re very clear about that. On the one hand, you don’t want to scaremonger; but you have to balance that against being honest about the realities.’

Fowler agreed, and said that improved treatment alone would not help. ‘Prevention must be the key policy,’ he added. ‘One essential message remains the same as in the 1980s: the more the partners, the greater the risk. Protect yourself. Use a condom.’


Editor’s Note: Youth and education | So So Gay magazine

We are, apparently, enjoying – if that’s the right word – the coolest summer since 1993. Still, you can rely upon the LGBT community to keep things sizzling, and August seemed to prove the point. Pride events in ReadingManchester and Brighton – to name but three – weathered the chill in the air and were as successful as ever. And, of course, we here at So So Gay were keeping ourselves busy, with a team in Edinburgh to profile the Festival, and plenty of new reviews, interviews and features popping up here, there and everywhere. Who needs a sun tan?

Now that August is just a memory, many So So Gay readers will be returning to college or university. Some might even be starting their very first year in higher or further education. It can be a daunting time; working out how to survive and socialise on a tight income, discovering first loves and coming out feature prominently in the lives of many young gay, lesbian and bisexual people in their first years away from home. With Freshers’ Week soon to plunge thousands of new students into the world of societies, unions and new friendships, it seems only fair for us to make this month on So So Gay all yours. Welcome to our ‘youth and education’ month.

We’ll take a look at how people deal with coming out in their first days at university, as well as looking at some of the support networks and societies at the UK’s biggest educational institutions. We’ll also be doing our best to let you know about the local scenes in the UK’s main university towns, and giving you tips on surviving the first, torrid few weeks of university life. As ever, we’ll also bring you our usual mix of news, reviews, features and interviews. If you’re starting at uni or college this month, drop us a line to let us know how you’re getting on – and good luck!

Andy Wasley

PS: What better time than the first day of our ‘youth’ month for So So Gay to reach its thousandth post! It’s a wonderful milestone to have reached, and so near to our birthday celebrations, too!


Compilation review: Queen – the final five albums | So So Gay magazine

Nearly 20 years after Freddie Mercury’s death brought Queen’s reign over rock music to a premature end, the band retains its iconic status and influence. It’s not for nothing that Brian May headlined the VMAs alongside Lady Gaga in August; Gaga is one of many artists who cite Queen among their inspirations. And with so many cult-status songs under the band’s belt that should be no surprise. Few artists have achieved anything like Queen’s enduring appeal.

This year is also the 40th anniversary of Queen’s formation. In celebration of that milestone, the band’s entire back catalogue has been digitally re-mastered. The final five albums – The WorksA Kind of MagicThe MiracleInnuendo and Made in Heaven – are released on 5 September, which would have been Freddie Mercury’s 65th birthday. Together the albums represent the band at their most influential and, ultimately, most tragic.

The Works – 1984
Rating: ****

The Works, released in 1984, took the band back to their rock roots after their R&B and funk-inspired 1982 album, Hot Space. Where Hot Space had split fans and critics over its solid disco style, The Works was a clearer expression of the band’s traditional glossy rock sound. ‘I Want to Break Free’ mixes a steady acoustic bass line with whining synths in a style that was to become the band’s stock-in-trade throughout the Eighties (note that the album version might not be familiar to those who have only heard the later, longer single). ‘Radio Gaga’, meanwhile, adopts a heavier electronic sound, well-suited to the song’s sci-fi appeal, with lyrics inspired by HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds and a video based on Fritz Lang’s silent movie Metropolis.

Lesser-known tracks include the rockabilly ‘Man on the Prowl’, set up almost as a sequel in sound to 1979’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, and the heavily electronic ‘Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)’. ‘Tear It Up’, a heavy stadium rock number, was an obvious effort to reassert Queen’s traditional heavy rock sound. In this respect, it is a worthy representative of The Works, which bolstered Queen’s claim to be masters of their genre after a somewhat confused foray into disco. Unfortunately, the album was also to represent the peak of the band’s popularity in the USA, where a rather prudish audience felt that Freddie Mercury’s drag routine in the video for ‘I Want to Break Free’ was a step too far.

A Kind of Magic – 1986

Rating: ****

In 1985 Queen stormed the show at Live Aid, at a time when the press was questioning their talent and harassing Mercury during the gathering storm of the HIV/Aids epidemic. The following year, the band pushed back against critics harder still by releasing A Kind of Magic, possibly their most accomplished and experimental album of the period.

A Kind of Magic sees Queen turn to a deft blend of electronica, orchestral arrangement and hard rock, to produce an album truly worthy of its title. Its first track, ‘One Vision’, introduces the album with a synth-laden opening sequence before breaking into a rock and electronic tour-de-force. The album’s title track takes a quieter approach, with John Deacon’s famous bass line perfectly complementing a restrained performance from Brian May and some of Mercury’s most bravura vocals. ‘Gimme the Prize’, meanwhile, gives the band a chance to show that they could still deliver their traditional heavy sound.

The album serves as the unofficial companion to the execrable Highlander, and is one of the few genuinely good things to emerge from the movie. Along with ‘Gimme the Prize’, two other tracks stand out in connection with the film – ‘Princes of the Universe’, whose heavy rock sound was the clearest echo of the band’s earlier style to make it into the album, and the epic ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’. Duff notes, however, also crept in, with ‘Pain is So Close to Pleasure’ offering little but soft-ballad boredom to an otherwise storming album.

A Kind of Magic was promoted with the 1986 Magic Tour, one of the biggest rock tours ever. Over a million people in 11 countries saw Queen perform, with the Wembley Stadium concert on 11 July captured for posterity in Live at Wembley Stadium. Sadly, the final performance – at Knebworth on 9 August – was also to be the band’s last ever live show.

The Miracle – 1989
Rating: ***½

In 1987 Freddie Mercury tested positive for HIV. The news brought Queen’s status as one of the world’s foremost touring bands to a close. At the same time, the band took a break from recording while individual members worked on solo projects. Roger Taylor released his solo album, Shove It in 1988, and in the same year Mercury released his collaboration with the Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé, Barcelona. Mercury and Caballé wrote the album’s title track to be the theme tune for Barcelona’s 1992 Summer Olympic Games, and performed a number of tracks from the album live in the city in 1988. It was to be the last time Mercury sang in public.

During that same year the band were busy recording their 13th studio album, The Miracle, which was released in 1989. Mercury’s health was already in decline; videos from the album show him looking leaner and more serious, a condition which was reflected in many of the album’s tracks. The title track finds the band in philosophical mode, presenting thoughtful lyrics alongside a comparatively light and playful sound. ‘I Want It All’ and ‘Kashoggi’s Ship’ represent the band’s heavier rock sound, while ‘Was It All Worth It’ takes the prize as one of their most over-the-top and bombastic numbers.

The Miracle is notable in that it is the first of Queen’s albums where tracks are credited to the whole band, rather than to individuals. ‘Scandal’, ‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘Breakthru’ prove that Queen was always more than just four performers, with each member’s contribution to the band’s sound starkly evident. The Miracle is a solid, if not entirely inspirational, album. Its release sealed the end of Queen’s wildest and most influential era – but it certainly didn’t mark the end of the show.

Innuendo – 1991
Rating: *****

In 1990 Freddie Mercury had been diagnosed with Aids and his health was in freefall. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, persistent rumours and intrusions from the press effectively placed him under house arrest. Still, he and his band-mates toiled as hard as ever. May recalls that even at his weakest, Mercury would knock back vodka and proclaim, ‘fuck it, let’s do it’ before laying down flawless vocals.

Those vocals were set for release in 1991’s Innuendo, the band’s final album before Mercury’s death on 24 November of that year. Unsurprisingly, the album is the band’s bleakest; almost every song carries a note of tragedy, backed with defiance and good humour. ‘Don’t Try So Hard’ sees the band express themselves in typically rock-operatic style, while their famous heavier sound is apparent in ‘Headlong’ and ‘I Can’t Live With You’. Mercury shows his playful side, meanwhile, in his tribute to his beloved cats, ‘Delilah’, and the madcap imagery of ‘I’m Going Slightly Mad’.

Three of Innuendo’s tracks stand out as an expression of the band’s solidarity behind their front-man. ‘Bijou’ sees Mercury and May perform a duet notable for its plaintive sound and heavily mournful lyrics. ‘These Are the Days of Our Lives’ brings a note of reflective contemplation on youth and lost opportunities, and also served as Mercury’s last-ever on-screen appearance in a video that remains too painful for some fans to watch.

But the most famous and powerful track on the album surely carries its strongest message. By turns defiant, desperately sad and powerfully inspirational, ‘The Show Must Go On’ was the last single to be released before Mercury finally succumbed to Aids-related pneumonia. His soaring vocals, backed by May’s screaming guitar solo, Taylor’s ground-shaking percussion and Deacon’s oppressive bass, betray not a shred of regret. The song – and its album – remains a fitting tribute to one of rock’s most accomplished performers.

Made in Heaven – 1995
Rating: ***½

Four years after Freddie Mercury’s death, the band released its final studio album. Made in Heavencontains a number of previously unheard recordings, along with re-dubbed solo efforts from Mercury and Brian May. While it finds a useful position as an epilogue to the band’s story, at the time of its release some critics felt it was ghoulish and strained. Unquestionably, however, it served to remind a new generation of music fans that better things came before Oasis and Take That, and it seemed to fit well into the mid-Nineties zeitgeist.

The album’s opening track, ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’, was never performed for an album; a scrap recording from 1980, Mercury’s performance was no less impressive than when he was in full-on recording mode. The track gives John Deacon a chance to show that he is more than a thumping bassist, as he contributes a dreamy orchestral sequence that does seem to come straight from the afterlife. A similarly dreamy performance is evident in ‘A Winter’s Tale’, Mercury’s final solo composition.

The trademark heavy rock sound makes its familiar appearance in ‘I Was Born To Love You’ and ‘Made in Heaven’, both tracks from Mercury’s 1985 solo album, Mr Bad Guy. Brian May also contributes a solo track, ‘Too Much Love Will Kill You’, treated to a superb and histrionic performance by Mercury.

The stand-out track is, surely, ‘Mother Love’. As painful as it must have been, Mercury lay down the vocals as he started to suffer from the pneumonia that was to claim his life. His performance carries more anguish than anything else he ever sang, and even his remarkable determination couldn’t see the whole thing through; the final verse is performed instead by Brian May, before a coda featuring a ‘databurst’ of every track Queen ever recorded. As the track plays out, it book-ends Mercury’s final performance with a sample of his first – 1973’s ‘Goin’ Back’. It is a painful and shatteringly sad track, and it is a fitting tribute to Mercury that it is also one of his finest.

Ultimately, though, Made in Heaven is notable more for its novelty than for its originality. The band’s surviving members did their best with what they had. However middling the result, it’s very hard indeed to imagine that Queen’s discography would ever have felt complete without it.

The Works, A Kind of Magic, The Miracle, Innuendo and Made in Heaven are all re-issued on 5 September, and are available to buy through Live at Wembley Stadium and Deep Cuts Vol. 3 are also released on 5 September.


Competition: Win Queen’s final five albums… and more! – So So Gay

Monday 5 September would have been the 65th birthday of the late, great Freddie Mercury. Sadly, the front-man of Queen died of an Aids-related illness 20 years ago. However, the band remain one of the most influential and popular rock groups in history, and this year – which also marks the 40th anniversary of their creation – they’re as busy as ever. Since January they have been re-issuing their albums, staging exhibitions (Stormtroopers in Stilettoswhich gained a five-star review here on So So Gay), advising film-makers on a new biopic about Mercury, and teaming up with the likes of Lady Gaga to show that they still know how to rock.

To celebrate Queen’s continuing presence on the global stage, we’ve teamed up with the band’s PR team to offer one lucky winner a pack up of Queen’s five final albums (reviewed earlier on So So Gay), along with Deep Cuts volumes one to three. Queen’s final five albums, The Works, A Kind of Magic, The Miracle, Innuendo and Made in Heaven track the band through the height of their power and influence in the Eighties, through to the post-Freddie era. Deep Cuts are a series of albums featuring lesser-known Queen tracks from the band’s extensive discography. To be in with a chance of winning the whole package, worth over £85, simply complete the form below by 12.00pm on Sunday 11 September. We’ll pick a winner at random after then.

Good luck!

This competition has now closed.


So So Gay welcomes end of lifetime ban on gay blood donors

Unsurprisingly, the news that the Government intends to lift the lifetime ban on gay (and bisexual) men donating blood brings forth a mixture of elation and condemnation from campaigners. Few doubted that the lifetime ban was unjustified. The great majority of sexually transmitted diseases are detectable during routine screening of donated blood. It seemed that the lifetime ban sprang more from fear than from practicality, playing into long-standing concerns that gay men’s blood is little more than a public health hazard.

The Government says that the new rules take account of the fact that hepatitis B can remain undetectable in blood for as long as 12 months. We do not intend to argue against the science behind this concern; hepatitis B is a serious disease that causes great suffering, and the Government is entirely right to rely upon scientific evidence when protecting public health. Gay men are at particularly high risk of catching and transmitting the disease. On that basis, we do not think that the deferral period is unfair per se.

However, in retaining the new deferral period, the Government has tacitly acknowledged a significant failure in British health policy. In 1992 the World Health Organisation recommended a mass vaccination programme to control hepatitis B. Most countries – 85 per cent of them, at the last count – have implemented national vaccination programmes. The UK stands almost alone in the developed world in not implementing such a programme, leaving millions of people at risk of catching the disease.

Last week the House of Lords Select Committee on HIV and Aids called the Government’s policies on HIV prevention ‘woefully inadequate’. We might apply the same argument equally to hepatitis B; awareness of the disease is pitifully low, and as many as half of those infected with it do not know they have it. It is unfashionable to call for more public spending at a time of fiscal austerity, but while budget managers make hard decisions we can’t help but think that the public would be better served if the NHS spent more on hep B awareness, and rather less, perhaps, on homeopathy.

We also note some campaigners’ suggestions that the rules should reflect risky behaviour rather than an individual’s risk group. Under the new rules, a person who engages in frequent unprotected heterosexual intercourse could be treated as though he or she is at lower risk of transmitting disease than a man who has had single instance of protected oral sex with another man. That needs some explanation; if not unfairly discriminatory, it certainly seems counter-intuitive, and reflects a concern that simply placing all sexual contact between men, regardless of circumstance, in the same category is unreasonable. The Government is keen to make sure it does not discriminate unfairly against gay men, so it seems fair to suggest that these issues would benefit from greater scrutiny.

In summary, though, it is undeniable that the Government has made a step in the right direction. To a dying man, blood is blood. In due course, we hope, it shouldn’t matter who gives it at all.


UK Government lifts lifetime ban on gay blood donation | So So Gay

The UK Government today announced that it would lift the lifetime ban on blood donation from men who have sex with men, replacing it with a one-year deferral period. The new regulations, which come into force from 7 November and apply in England, Wales and Scotland, bring most of the UK in line with many other countries with a one-year waiting period, and have been welcomed by major sexual health charities. Northern Ireland, however, will retain the ban for the time being as it undertakes further study, and some activists said they felt the changes did not go far enough.

The new regulations will mean that any man who has had protected or unprotected oral or anal sex with another man will be banned from giving blood until a year after exposure. The rules are to change in England, Wales and Scotland after their health ministers accepted recommendations by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).

SaBTO said it recommended the deferral period because men who have sex with men remain at a high risk of HIV and other blood borne illnesses – including hepatitis B, a highly infectious virus that can cause chronic liver diseases including cirrhosis and cancer. Although HIV can be detected in blood four weeks after exposure, the hepatitis B virus can remain undetectable for up to a year in some cases.

Sexual health charities welcomed the end of the lifetime ban. Carl Burnell, the chief executive of GMFA, the gay men’s health charity, noted that some gay and bisexual men would still be frustrated that they would be unable to donate blood, but said that ‘the one-year deferral is based on scientific evidence to ensure the safety of the blood supply’. This was partly due to hepatitis B’s longer ‘detection window’ – the period during which it is hard to test for the disease reliably.

Hepatitis B is preventable, and nearly 85 per cent of countries routinely vaccinate children against it; however, in the UK the vaccine is only available to at-risk groups, which include men who have sex with men. Sir Nick Partridge, the chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said he hoped that, in time, the new deferral period could be reconsidered if the gay population’s risk of blood-borne infections declined. ‘We will continue to campaign to improve gay men’s sexual health to a level where the regulations can be the same for all, regardless of sexuality,’ he added.

Despite broad approval for the new rules – including from GMFA, the Terrence Higgins Trust and the National Aids Trust – some activists complained that the new rules remained excessive. Chris Ward, a former Liberal Democrat councillor and co-founder of Lib Dems Against the Blood Ban, welcomed the end of the life ban; speaking to So So Gay before the Government’s announcement, however, he said the deferral period was ‘a ban by any other name’.

‘I would be happy with a twelve-month referral if, and only if, it was based entirely on risky behaviour, such as unprotected anal sex,’ Ward said. ‘In this case, even oral sex with a condom leads to a ban. I also think we need to differentiate between men who are in long-term relationships and those who have multiple partners; there are so many people who do not fit into the at-risk pigeon-hole who can’t give blood, and plenty who can who are at high risk. HIV doesn’t care who it infects.’

In a leader column for So So Gay, the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief welcomed the new rules, but called for health authorities to do more to raise awareness of hepatitis B. ‘We can’t help but think that the public would be better served if the NHS spent more on hep B awareness, and rather less, perhaps, on homeopathy,’ he said.

Men who have sex with men are entitled to be vaccinated against hepatitis B. For more information talk to your local GUM clinic or GP, or visit NHS Choices.


Stonewall Awards – Melanie Phillips nominated as ‘Bigot of the Year’.

Stonewall, the LGBT rights campaigning charity, has announced its nominees for its annual awards, which will be held at the V&A on 3 November. The event, which will be hosted by the comedian Stephen K Amos, will see awards given out in ten categories, including three which will be voted on by Stonewall’s supporters across the UK: Hero of the Year, Bigot of the Year and the Stonewall Community Group.

This year’s nominees for Bigot of the Year include one that will be more than familiar to So So Gay readers: the Daily Mail and former Spectator journalist, Melanie Phillips. In January, after Phillips penned an attack on recommendations that schools should be asked to help children understand LGBT rights, So So Gay’s Editor-in-Chief responded with an opinion piece that became one of the magazine’s most-read features, complaining about Phillips’ ‘moral hypochondria’. A follow-up article by Lee Williscroft-Ferris warned that we ignore Phillips’ bigotry at our peril.

Stonewall’s citation for Phillips suggests she is worthy of the award:

Other nominees for Bigot of the Year include: Stephen Green, the leader of the fundamentalist Christian organisation Christian Voice; the Catholic Bishop of Leeds, Rt Rev Arthur Roche, who mounted a costly legal campaign to block gay couples from adopting children; Brian Souter, the Stagecoach boss, who was awarded a knighthood earlier this year despite a lengthy history of homophobic campaigns including an effort to retain Section 2A, a Scottish law equivalent to England and Wales’s Section 28; and the Scottish National Party’s Bill Walker MSP, who condemned gay relationships as being ‘in no way equal’ to heterosexual ones, and compared an anti-homophobia campaign logo to a swastika.

The Hero of the Year category includes nominations for Lady Gaga, Joan Armatrading, Bette Bourne, Roger Crouch and Paul Martin OBE. Lady Gaga (one of So So Gay’s own LGBT Heroes) is nominated for her ‘enthusiastic campaigning for LGBT equality’, and for lending her clout to the campaign against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Joan Armatrading, the song-writer, received her nomination in recognition of her long and illustrious career, as did Bette Bourne, a legendary drag queen, actor and equal rights activist. Paul Martin OBE, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, was nominated for his hard work to support the LGBT community in Manchester. Roger Crouch’s nomination was given for his campaign against homophobic bullying, which he started after his son, Dominic, took his own life at the age of 15 after being bullied.

Stonewall will announce nominees for its other awards – which include Writer and Entertainer of the Year – later this month.

Tickets for the 2011 Stonewall Awards ceremony are available now, and cost £150 + VAT. To book your ticket visit or contact Maria Anna Petrou on 020 7593 2294.