Canada finally lifts archaic, homophobic ban on queer men donating blood
Health Canada has lifted the antiquated ban on blood donations from queer men and others within the LGBT+ community.
The government department – which is responsible for national health policies in Canada – released a statement on Thursday (28 April) that it authorised a request from Canadian Blood Services to lift the restrictions on blood donations from men who had sex with men in the last three months.
The new policy, which goes into effect on 30 September, will screen all potential donors – regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation – for high-risk sexual behaviours.
As such, Canadian Blood Services will bring forward a new donor-screening process to anyone interested in giving blood and plasma, which will include a sexual behaviour-based questionnaire.
“Today’s authorisation is a significant milestone toward a more inclusive blood donation system nationwide, and builds on progress in scientific evidence made in recent years,” Health Canada said.
Health Canada has authorised several changes to the restrictions on blood donated by members of the LGBT+ community. The regulator dropped the outright ban on gay, bisexual and queer men donating blood down to five years in 2013, to one year in 2016 and to three months in 2019.
Health Canada added that this latest change was based on a “thorough assessment of evidence supporting the safety of the revised donor screening”, and it had met with a “group of scientific and medical experts” in the field of blood safety for a meeting on 13 April.
Dr Graham Sher, CEO of Canadian Blood Services, said the approval of their request to remove the eligibily criteria for queer men is the “result of a over a decade of work to make participation in Canada’s Lifeline as inclusive as possible” without risking safety or the security of supply.
“Numerous 2SLGBTQIA+ and other stakeholder groups, researchers and Canadian Blood Services employees have contributed countless hours to this effort over the years,” Sher said. “This could not have happened without their hard work.”
Canadian Blood Services – which operates in all provinces and territories except for Quebec – said the new screening criteria will ask any donor if they’ve had “new or multiple sexual partners in the last three months”.
If the answer is ‘yes’, the service will ask if the person had anal sex with any of these partners, and the individual may be required to wait three months in order to donate blood and plasma.
“While this eligibility change represents a significant step on our continual journey to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive national transfusion and transplantation system, we still have considerable work to do to build trust and repair relationships with 2SLGBTQIA+ communities,” Sher added.
Michael Kwag – acting executive director of Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC), a non-profit that champions the health of LGBT+ people in Canada – said lifting the blood donation ban means Canada is “finally catching up to other countries”, which already operated with a gender-neutral approach to donor screenings.
“Health Canada’s original policy was discriminatory and encouraged stigma and ignorance around queer men’s and trans people’s health,” Kwag said. “It also undermined Canada’s blood supply, which can run precariously low.”
But CBRC said that more work needed to be done as the original donation policy “contributed to the stigmatising idea that gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men are inherently unsafe”. As such, the non-profit said Canadian Blood Services must engaged in “public education campaigns to dispel stereotypes” and “fight misconceptions about our communities”.
Canadian Blood Services promised to spend the next couple of months preparing to implement the new inclusive blood donation criteria. This includes updating systems and processes as well as training staff.