Canadian Blood Services apologizes to the LGBTQ2S+ community for its discriminatory blood donation policy

Canada’s long-standing blood donation policy that prevented sexually active men who have sex with men and some trans people from donating blood and plasma was harmful and discriminatory, Canadian Blood Services acknowledged Friday as it issued an apology to the LGBTQ2S+ community. .

“The policy was implemented with the intention of protecting patient safety after the Canadian blood system crisis of the 1980s. We regret that for many years the previous policy also contributed to discrimination, homophobia, transphobia and stigma of HIV within society,” said the Canadian. said Dr. Graham Sher, CEO of Blood Services.

Speaking to a room of community members and allies in Ottawa, Sher acknowledged that while the regret expressed does not erase the harm caused, the apology was a long time coming and necessary so the organization could continue to build trust with LGBTQ2S+ communities.

“Canadian Blood Services apologizes to gay, bisexual and queer men, trans people and queer people generally for the impact of the previous deferral policy. We recognize how this policy reinforced the harmful public perception that blood someone is in some way less safe because of their sexual orientation Canadian Blood Services also apologizes to our past and present employees, who over the years may have had to explain or defend the policy,” Sher said.

LGBTQ2S+ representatives then had the opportunity to take the stage and share their experiences about how the policy impacted them, expressing gratitude for the historic recognition that for decades prohibition perpetuated negative stereotypes.

Mike Maloney, an employee of Canadian Blood Services for almost 30 years and co-chair of the organization’s LGBTQ2S+ advisory committee, said that after living and working during the blood ban, the day the rules changed he felt like he could “breathe.” a sigh of relief.”

“I no longer had to worry about explaining or defending our policies to my friends, family and members of my community. Today marks another important milestone in Canadian history, and a day I thought would never be conceivable,” Maloney said.

“I’m proud to have been involved in the development of this apology…I’m grateful to have the apology for myself too…it’s a place to begin the healing process.”

Backstory of the ban

In 2022, Canadian Blood Services eliminated the three-month donor deferral period for gay and bisexual men, as well as some other members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, following approval from Health Canada and years of pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to to fulfill his 2015 election promise to eradicate what he considered a “wrong” policy that ignored “scientific evidence.”

Moving away from what began as a total lifetime ban and then was progressively shortened over the past two decades, the national blood donor organization – which calls itself “Canada’s lifeline” – now screens all blood and plasma donors based on higher risk sexual behaviors, regardless of gender or sexuality.

This policy change was a hard, long-fought effort, backed by research and led by LGBTQ2S+ Canadians.

However, this selection process still disqualifies certain donors based on their sexual activity and sexual orientation, specifically whether they have recently engaged in anal sex in the context of new or multiple sexual partners in recent months, or if taking PrEP – its advocates have warned that the new approach may still indirectly discriminate in an unscientific way.

Noting this, Sher thanked those who continue to push for improvements to maximize donor inclusion and pledged on Friday to continue engaging and acting on feedback from medical experts and the LGBTQ2S+ community.

“Our donor screening decisions and policies have always been and always will be based on science. But science evolves,” Sher said.

Updates to other donor rules

This week, reflecting the new approach to blood donation screening, Health Canada replaced restrictions on sperm and egg donors aimed at sexually active gay and bisexual men, as well as their partners, with a new screening questionnaire based on behavior, gender neutral.

In marking the change to the sperm donation rule, Health Canada noted that further reforms to this country’s continuing restrictions on cell, tissue and organ donation are possible.

The federal health agency said it is working with the Canadian Standards Association “to discuss potential changes” to screening criteria for gay and bisexual donors. According to the government, these criteria are currently being reviewed by experts in the field.

“I hope governments and blood regulators around the world take note and follow this lead. But just because Canada is leading the way with this apology doesn’t mean we’ve crossed the finish line,” said CEO Michael Kwag. from the Community Research Centre, Canada’s largest queer health organization.

“Because it’s still harder than it should be for queer and trans people to donate blood, as well as organ tissue and other biological materials. And that’s very frustrating.”

Questions about blood, sperm and tissue policies, and whether the federal government has discriminated against LGBTQ2+ donors in upholding them, continue to arise in the courts and at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

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