Local advocates celebrate Canadian Blood Services dropping ‘discriminatory’ donation policy

On Thursday, Health Canada announced that it had lifted the ban that prevented gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

Today, local advocates in London, Ont. are celebrating the news.

“To be honest, it was pretty emotional,” said advocate Andrew Rosser.

Currently, Canadian Blood Services doesn’t allow men who have sex with men to donate unless they’ve been abstinent for three months. Rosser has been advocating for years against this policy.

“When I got involved in the movement, I knew it was going to be a long process because it involves health policy. But to see the steps that we’ve taken actually come this far — it’s not perfect — but it is a milestone that we’ve been waiting for a long time for,” Rosser said.

For Shawn Lewis, a Ward Two city councilor, Thursday’s announcement is also welcomed news.

“As a gay man, I really feel much more empowered by this policy than the previous policy. I feel like now, I can be somebody who can contribute,” he said.

The exclusionary policy will now apply to everyone regardless of gender or sexual orientation, and include a questionnaire about sexual behaviour.

“It’s less stigmatizing, it’s less discriminatory and support ideally [is] greater and [there is] more equitable access to this opportunity for people who want to donate blood,” said Meredith Fraser, with Regional HIV/AIDS Connection.

While the change is being universally celebrated, advocates believe there are still areas that can be improved.

“We still have a lot of work to do as far as reengaging men who have sex with men because for a lot of times, we were excluded. So to reengage those people and build that trust back up is going to be a long road,” said Rosser.

For Lewis meanwhile, he’s going to savor the moment that’s been years in the making.

“I think for now, I’ll enjoy the fact that a discriminatory policy is gone and then start to ponder how we can make it even better,” he said.

Health Canada has been working towards this over the past decade, moving from a lifetime ban to five years in 2013, then one year in 2016, then a three month ban in 2019.

“There has been no shift in terms of the safety of the blood supply, so reducing it or eliminating it altogether can be done without jeopardizing the safety of our blood supply,” said Fraser.

Health Canada released that as part of its findings, there were no HIV transmissions following the reduced deferral time of one year to three months which began in 2019.

Starting September 30, all blood donors will be screened for higher risk sexual activities, such as multiple partners within a certain time frame — the change will apply to both blood and plasma donations.

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