On May 22 Canadian Blood Services (CBS) by way of Health Canada stated that they are moving towards lifting the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men. There is however, one catch: any such man who would like to donate has to be abstinent for at least 5 years.
As a proud gay man, and an adult I find this change in policy a pathetic attempt to try to be an inclusive organization that supports equality. I understand that back in the 1980s when the HIV Crisis hit my community, the ban was necessary because the technology available to test blood was not up to snuff. However, we are in 2013 and CBS openly admits that they test all donated blood. Furthermore, we are now in possession of sophiscated diagnostic means to scrutinize blood donations to ensure the safety of the supply.
CBS argues that they do not have sufficient Canadian data to properly assess the ‘risks’. This is political pandering, when a country we have close ties with such as the UK has a much shorter deferral period, and I’m confident would have credible data. The reality is that I feel this decision is rooted in discrimination and sex negative attitudes. To suggest to any adult that they have to abstain from sex for five years is simply unfair and against our biology. Added to the fact that it is only men who have sex with men that this applies to is outright government sanctioned hatred. Why would this deferral not apply to women who have sex with women? To women who may have male partners that have sex with other men? When looking at other nations the bans vary from lifetime, a deferral period of 1 year or less, or no deferral time required.
While I empathize with the CBS saying they want the blood supply to be safe for users: which it should be. I could be a blood user, and I want to know that people from my LBGTQI community can if they so choose can help support our national blood supply. The reality is that the change that CBS has made is not a change at all. It is but a slap in the face to men who have sex with men, and goes to encourage and support the stigma around men who have sex with men, plus the stigma that exists around HIV. Canadian Blood Services is also demonizing people who have HIV or hepatitis—to think that they would donate if knowingly infected is a sad statement of the faith CBS has in Canadians.
I believe that our federal legislators need to step up and end this blatant hatred and antiquated attitude. Countries such as Chile, Mexico and Italy have no ban at all. I suggest that in Canada we move to the same model given the fact that we have the technology to properly screen blood donations. Alternatively, we could move to a no ban/deferral model and assess all people equally based on sexual practices. However, I feel the second option is still rooted in sex negative perspectives and that we should encourage a healthy sexuality in our population. It is time we contact our MPs, and push for this short sighted and discriminatory ban to be abolished for good.