NEW YORK -- A warning that gays should not be allowed to donate blood because they may carry a deadly disease is discriminatory and will lead to further 'persecution' of the nation's 10 million homosexuals, a national gay group says.
The National Hemophilia Foundation earlier this month identified three groups -- homosexuals, Haitians and 'intravenous drug users' -- as carriers of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDs, an immune system disease.
Because the disease is transmitted through blood transfusions, the foundation said, it recommended that the groups not be allowed to donate blood.
But the National Gay Task Force said Thursday there was insufficient evidence to identify homosexuals' blood as a cause of AIDS.
The group also said the statement was discriminatory and would increase 'persecution' of homosexuals.
'We are frightened of what this kind of stigma could cause,' said task force executive director Virginia Apuzzo. 'I don't think you know what the stigma of bad blood could mean for a group that has been historically persecuted.'
There are 10 million homosexuals in the country, the task force said.
A foundation spokesman said its recommendation that homosexuals not be allowed to give blood was based on sound medical practice.
'We see this as a public health issue, not as a civil rights issue,' said foundation spokesman Alan Brownstein.
The disease was discovered two years ago and is concentrated in cities with large homosexual populations. About 50 percent of all victims are located in New York City.
Since it was discovered, 634 cases have been reported, officials said.
About 40 percent of AIDS victims die from skin cancer, pneumonia or infections caught because of the disease, which lowers their ability to fight infection.
Task force members said about 75 percent of all AIDS victims are either homosexual or bisexual.
Dr. Roger Enlow, a task force member, said a Los Angeles blood bank has started questioning potential blood donors on their sexual preferences and turning down those who say they are homosexual.
He said he fears large numbers of other blood banks will soon follow suit, prompting a nationwide blood shortage.
Task force members recommended that only those people with AIDS symptoms or hepatitis be turned down as blood donors. Hepatitis often accompanies the disease.