Canada may soon repeal its discriminatory blood ban on gay and bisexual men who want to donate blood.
In a Friday press conference, Justin Trudeau said he is hopeful that Canada’s current restrictions on queer male blood donors will be lifted as soon as possible. According to the blood ban policy in Canada, men who have sex with men (MSM) must refrain from having sexual contact for three months before they can give blood.
What Are the Current Criteria?
Right now, gay and bisexual men are eligible to donate blood if more than three months have passed since they last had sexual contact with another man.
Canadian Blood Services (CBS) aims to remove this current waiting period for men engaging in sex with other men. Instead, they want to use sexual behavior-based screening for all blood donors. CBS’ goal is to make a submission recommending that this change is implemented to Health Canada by the end of 2021.
What Is the History Behind This Blood Ban?
Up until 2013, Canada banned all gay and bisexual men from donating blood at all. This ban was according to a policy that dated as far back as the HIV/AIDS crisis. Then in 2013, queer men were allowed to donate blood for the first time; however, it was under strict guidelines. It first mandated that gay or bisexual men must be celibate for five years before donating blood. Since these rules were so strict, many gay and bisexual men were unable to donate blood anyways.
This five-year rule then shifted to one year and was enacted in 2019. Canada’s policy is similar to that of Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, which abide by the three-month window.
How Have Activists Reacted to This Blood Ban Policy?
Activists are pushing for government leaders worldwide to loosen these restrictions. That way, LGBTQ+ people can donate blood without any limits.
In April 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said they would shorten this period. According to GLAAD, they believed it was “a step towards being more in line with science” but pointed out that this decision was still “imperfect.”
Why Hasn’t This Policy Been Put Into Place Yet?
Trudeau has stated that the party he leads in Canada, the Liberal Party, has prioritized allowing queer men to donate blood without limitations over the past six years. His reasoning behind the delay was due to the previous Conservative government, which had cut funding to CBS. As a result, government officials did not have the relevant research to make this decision.
Has The Blood Ban Policy Been Discussed in the Liberal Party’s Platform?
Even though Trudeau claims that the blood ban is a priority, it is not mentioned in the Liberal Party’s platform. Other LGBTQ2S agendas have been brought up on the platform, but the blood ban is not mentioned.
The Liberals have promised to the LGBTQ2S community in their platform that the cost of in vitro fertilization will be an eligible health expenditure under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. It will also ensure adoptive parents receive an additional 15 weeks of leave.
In addition, neither Trudeau nor CBS has given a specific time frame on when these changes might be implemented. Trudeau also made this same promise during Pride 2020, saying he was “very hopeful that we’ll be able to announce the results and the change, very soon.”
Will These Reforms Be Beneficial to Transgender Individuals?
These proposed reforms may not be entirely beneficial for all members of the LGBTQ+ community. For example, transgender women who have not had lower gender-affirming surgery done and who are engaging with a male sexual partner are categorized as “higher risk” in CBS’ regulations. This group of individuals is also deferred from donating blood until three months have passed after receiving gender-affirming surgery. Then, these individuals are screened according to their gender identity.
How Have Policies Been Perceived in Other Countries?
Canada making more inclusive changes to the LGBTQ+ community with its blood donation policies is still behind the regulations in the United Kingdom. In June, the U.K. repealed their celibacy requirements for gay and bisexual men and have implemented the “behavior-based” criteria instead.
However, the U.K.’s new policies have even been criticized as being exclusionary to the LGBTQ+ community. For example, people of any gender who have recently engaged in anal sex are barred from donating blood. Also, sex workers or anyone taking HIV-prevention medications are not able to contribute blood, either. This decision has been criticized, seeing as an extensive amount of evidence has proven that both pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) reduce the likelihood of HIV transmission through sex to approximately zero.
Trudeau’s pledge arrives right before Canada’s federal election on September 21. Other parties like the New Democrats, for example, have pointed out that the Liberals have not delivered on their promise and criticized them for excluding the blood ban from its policy platform. However, the NDP has included the blood ban within its platform. They believe that “blood policies should be based on what is scientifically-proven to be high risk, not on broad and outdated stereotypes, and should be consistently applied to all donors.”