By Erin Cassidy
Allen Priest would love to donate blood. After all, his own life was saved after he received a blood transfusion when he was eight-years-old after falling ill with Kawasaki disease.
“I would not be alive without the donations of blood I received,” says Priest.
Priest, a 24-year-old gay male at Trent University, is not a fan of Canada’s updated blood donation policy for the gay male population.
Up until this past July, Canada had a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood. With the updated policy, the ban has been lifted, but they are faced with yet another setback: The policy requires them to be celibate for five years before they can donate.
In September 2011, Canadian Blood Services’ (CBS) board of directors passed a motion committing the organization to re-examine the lifetime ban policy.
“It’s just pure discrimination to be celibate for 5 years for them to give blood,” says Jean Clipsham, co-chair of Rainbow Nursing Interest Group. “It’s discrimination. It’s an equity issue.”
Although, she went on to stress that the donation process is about sexual behaviour, and not orientation.
Marc Plante, communications specialist with Canadian Blood Services, said that CBS has always been open to changing the policy. Plante said that CBS has been actively pursuing data with patient groups in order to update the lifetime ban.
“Patient groups are those that are direct recipients of blood and blood products, those that bear 100 per cent of the risk,” Plante says. “These include hemophiliacs, sickle cell disease, and other cancer patients.”
Canada, other countries have different policies when it comes to allowing gay men to give blood: England’s policy is one year, South Africa’s is six months, and the United States still has a lifetime ban.
“I think Canada’s policy is outdated and discriminatory, as we live in an age where all donated blood is tested for infections and diseases,” Priest says. “CBS perpetuates an arcane practice out of tradition and convenience, when in reality, an update would pose no difference and provide it with more donors.”
More than 21 per cent of Toronto’s population identified as being gay or lesbian in a survey in 2006.
“That’s a big population that Canadian Blood Services could draw from,” Clipsham said.
Why should only gay men be at the brunt of this ban? Homosexuals are not the only ones at risk when it comes to contracting diseases. Priest feels like this is an attack.
“Gay men do not differ from lesbians or heterosexual couples in regards to sexual practices,” Priest says. “At the end of the day, if someone wants to donate blood, and practices safe sex, and is not a recreational drug user or is on medications that cannot be removed from the blood, they should be able to donate at will.”
Plante said that patient groups had historically been opposed to any change in this policy while LGBT groups had been advocating for a change in screening process rather than simply changing the deferral time.
“Five years was an acceptable first step by patient and community groups in reducing the current deferral policy,” Plante said.
According to Plante, five years is enough time to determine if there is any risk in their bodily system.
Clipsham suggested that there might be a blood shortage as well, as they are always looking for more donors. It is so important to donate blood as it can go a long way.
“People with illness need blood and blood products to keep them alive,” Clipsham said. “People with leukemia for example, people who are in serious accidents or surgeries, so it’s important that they have blood. It’s important for medical care that the LGBTQ community can give blood.”