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Canadian Blood Services and Elton John: Can You Feel the Blood Tonight?

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ELTON JOHN FLORIDA HIV AIDS FUNDING
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I tend to commute a fair bit these days and subsequently, I spend an inordinate amount of my time stuck in traffic listening to the radio. I've recently reset my dial to KX 96, GTA's only country. This conversion has been driven by the fact that if I have to hear Party Rockers once again I'm going to pull a Jason Derulo and burn something down to the flo, flo, flo.

Anyway KX (pronounced kicks) is based out of Oshawa, which means its airwaves are filled with Durham specific ads. None are nowhere near as catchy as the best radio jingle in the history of Canadian radio jingles: "Sleep Country Canada why buy a mattress anywhere else?"; however, some of the ads are almost as amusing. Take recent adverts for Canadian Blood Services (CBS), whose latest campaign is so funny it almost made me spit out my fair trade organic milk latte. CBS's radio ads are currently promoting a contest: visit a blood donor clinic and you could win two tickets to go see Elton John.

As Melissa Smith-McGuire, community development coordinator at Canadian Blood Services notes: "Summer is typically a challenging time as blood donation is not always top of mind. I'm encouraging local residents to come together, help save lives and enter for the chance to see Elton John."

Wahoo, I thought: can you feel the blood tonight?! I mean who doesn't love the Rocket Man? And who doesn't want to hoist their smartphone in the air as Sir Elton belts out the classic "Candle in the Wind" and squeal: I wonder if he will he sing the Marilyn Monroe version, or, in light of the marriage of William of Wales to Catherine of Nowhere, the version that mentions England's Rose?

The suspense is killing me.

But then I thought to myself and to Melissa Smith-McGuire: girlfriend, why not kick this contest up a notch? Wouldn't it be truly amazing if Canadian Blood Services got Sir Elton to actually donate his own blood?

But as Shania Twain's "Don't be Stupid" hit the airwaves... epiphany struck: I was being stupid. I remembered that Elton John, a man, is in a civil partnership with Canadian David Furnish, also a man. This would, for those who aren't following my logic train, make them homosexuals. And Canadian Blood Services does not allow gay men the opportunity to donate blood if they have had sex with a man even once since 1977.

In the scheme of things, this isn't as big a marketing screw up as lets say New Coke... but surely someone around the conference table was like, hmm... Elton John, a gay man, can't actually donate blood in Canada, and neither can his partner, also a gay man. So perhaps using them as a carrot to try and get the general population to donate blood... maybe not the best idea?

Apparently not. Looking into the finer points of said contest I did discover that "Blood donations are not required" to win the tickets. CBS is wise to expand eligibility requirements; imagine if the fine print on those freebie Elton John tickets re-iterated what it says on Blood.ca: "All men who have had sex with another man (I guess they're talking about us gays), even once, since 1977 are indefinitely deferred."

While our Charter would view discrimination based on sexuality as untenable for a contest, why then do we allow it for blood donors?

Canadian Blood Services has long argued that banning blood from gay men is "based on health and safety considerations; namely, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the [men who have sex with men] populations." In fact, last year the Ontario Superior Court ruled in CBS's favour, reiterating, that CBS's policy is allowable due to health and safety concerns.

However, even researchers have begun to question the ban, implemented in 1983 (when Trudeau was PM). Mark Wainberg, head of the McGill University AIDS Centre, recently argued in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that CBS's gay blood ban should be re-evaluated in order to allow gay men who are in monogamous relationships the opportunity to donate blood. Some believe that CBS should defer donations by those donors who have had sex with multiple partners over the past year, be they homosexual or heterosexual. Other countries including Japan and Sweden have similar policies.

Yet Canadian Blood Services continues to treat gay men with, what is in my opinion, disdain. Gay men are placed in their HIV high-risk category, defined as, "People who have taken money or drugs for sex. [And] All men who have had sex with another man, even once, since 1977 are indefinitely deferred."

Yes, the CBS groups gays with drug users and prostitutes; activities deemed illegal by the Canadian Criminal Code. Awesome. Thanks guys. Don't let Elton John's door hit you on the way out.

And that, more then anything, is what galls me about this relatively innocuous contest. Canadian Blood Services is using a gay icon as a promotional tool, while endorsing an outdated view of homosexuality by continuing to ban of gay blood donors. This is no better than Las Vegas casino's that invited Sammy Davis Jr. to perform and then refused to let them spend the night. But that was in the 1950s.

To paraphrase singer Adam Lambert, it appears that for the Canadian Blood Services men who have sex with men are there for your entertainment only.

Blood, apparently it's NOT in me to give.

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