After years of lobbying from activists, Canadian Blood Services has finally proposed a policy change regarding blood donation, which will come into effect in the next few months provided it is approved by Health Canada. The new policy will lift the current lifetime ban on donations from gay men who have had sex with another man at any point since 1977 and replace it with a less restrictive one -- prohibiting donations only from gay men who have had sex with a man in the previous five years.
While I can understand the reasons behind both the initial institution of the lifetime ban (an attempt to minimize potential contamination of the blood supply by eliminating those viewed as extremely high-risk donors) and the opposition to the same (the ban is seen by many as unfairly and unnecessarily discriminating based on sexual orientation), it's unclear to me how the 5-year ban makes things any better for either side. And that's why I don't support the change.
Perhaps the lifetime ban was more of a sledgehammer than was scientifically necessary even when it was put into place, but it's hard to fault those in charge for implementing and maintaining the policy when they did. As the Calgary Herald's editorial board correctly pointed out in December: After the 1997 Krever Report's revelations about Canada's tainted blood scandal, public confidence in the safety of the blood collection system was extremely low. Canadians learned that thousands of patients had become infected with HIV, and tens of thousands more had become infected with Hepatitis C, through transfusions of inadequately screened blood products. The public was particularly disturbed to learn that plasma collected from San Francisco and U.S. prisons -- two locales likely to have high rates of HIV infection -- had been used despite the heightened risks. The ensuing fear and distrust counseled for erring on the side of safety in terms of collection policy. Moreover, the understanding of HIV infection, and how long the virus takes to be detectable in a patient's blood, was not as advanced then as it is now. So, while singling homosexual and bisexual men out as a group to be "banned" from donation -- rather than implementing a more nuanced restriction -- was undeniably problematic, it was the cautious and responsible way to go at that point in time.
Now, more than a decade and a half later, we know a great deal more about HIV detection and the risk factors for HIV transmission, so it's reasonable to want to move to a narrower, more targeted exclusion of potential donors. As a 2010 Ontario Superior Court judgment concluded, HIV infection is definitely more prevalent in gay and bisexual men than in the rest of the population, but there just isn't enough evidence to warrant a lifetime ban on donations from members of these groups. By conservative estimates, HIV is detectable in an infected person's blood six months after exposure (most people develop the detectable antibodies within about three weeks), so the idea that a sexual encounter even a year in the past -- let alone one that occurred in 1978 -- should be a reason for rejecting a donation seems unwarranted.
Add to that the fact that self-reporting of sexual behaviour is an inherently unscientific and unreliable way to screen for anything (there is no way to know if a potential donor is being truthful about his sexual history), and it seems especially unhelpful to lean on an overbroad ban of donors, rather than relying most heavily on what has become an extremely accurate method of objectively testing donations for infection.
So is a six-month or one-year ban the way to go (no donations from men who have had sex with a man in the past year)? That's what the U.K. has done, and it would be a defensible change if HIV is the primary concern. It is also not totally unreasonable, though, to worry -- as have some blood recipient advocates -- about the possibility of other sexually transmitted pathogens that we know less or nothing about, that, like HIV, could emerge first amongst gay men. And we don't know how long it would take after exposure for those pathogens to make themselves known. Trying to protect recipients from these mystery bugs is not beyond the mandate of Canadian Blood Services.
But if we're trying to protect against the unknown, rather than HIV, then decreasing the ban to five years is a pretty arbitrary action. Maybe the mystery pathogen will turn out to be detectable after seventeen days, but maybe it will be turn out to be detectable only after seventeen years. It's a complete guessing game at this point; and so changing the screening policy on this basis seems only to affirm the criticism that the ban is based on suspicions and feelings rather than hard science and epidemiology.
Truly, I would respect Canadian Blood Services more if it took a stronger position one way or the other.
Stick with the lifelong ban and admit that it's a super-cautious approach to try to mitigate against potential infections we don't yet understand based on the deadly mistakes made in the past with HIV. Or focus on the bloodborne diseases we do know about, and adjust the ban accordingly to 6-months or 1-year at the most, as would be consistent with the current science of detection. Either one of these approaches would be a more defensible posture than the arbitrary 5-year ban Canadian Blood Services has chosen to champion.
From Scott G. Brown aka Gene Brown, a member and participant of the 1969 Stonewall Inn raid and riots: "My ailing health has prevented me from making this 1,200 mile trip by Bus for next week's Pride Parade, but I can, truthfully, say that I was there in June 2011."
From Ashley Bartolome: "I took these photos at the Pride Parade in Washington, DC on June 9, 2012." What I love about pride is not only seeing but feeling the acceptance of everyone there. Gays, lesbians, heterosexuals and families attend every year supporting with cheers and smiles. I make it a point to attend pride every year not just for myself, but to give a voice and be a face for all LGBT people who can't speak up due to their closets or fears. I want to show them that it's ok to be who they are and there are countless Americans who accept them. I also like to be there out of respect for the LGBT who have been killed by others - or by their own hands - because of their sexuality.
From Welton Trindade, journalist and a gay activist: "I took part of Sao Paulo LGBT Parade. The march was realized on Sunday, June 10. That was the 16th edition of the event. Well, I wanted to show my body but a parade, in my opinion, is not just fun! So I've decided to show my muscles and, in the same time, to send a good message. The solution: to write 'Poder gay' (or 'Gay power') on my chest! It was a great experience!"
Vorstand, the organization team from the Zurich Pride Festival is meeting Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga, from left: Chriss, Patrik, Nathalie, Simonetta Sommaruga and David.
From Eva Adams: "Hundreds of thousands came out to celebrate gay rights in Berlin this year and I had the privilege of riding on a hetero-leaning wagon in support...It was extra special to land at the Reichstag with tens of thousands behind us celebrating love and tolerance. I'm not able to pick a best photo but needed to share. Thanks for your project!"
From Marilena: "I was at this year's national italian Gay Pride in Bologna! It was my first pride and it was amazing! I felt surrounded by so much love and most of all I felt safe and proud of who I am! Baci!"
From Evert Hermans & Birger De Rese: "We've been married for 4 years now. We're proud to have in Belgium legalized same sex marriage!"
From Zafiro Hiliada: "The picture was taken during the first ever pride organized in my home town Thessaloniki, Greece which was my first pride as well! About 2,000 people turned up not to mention all those who came out in the streets and cheered us on! There are only two pride festivals in the country. This and the one in Athens. It was truly magical! The monument in the picture is called the White Tower, and its the city's most recognizable monument."
From Nate Meyer: "I am an American teaching English here in South Korea, I recently
From married couple Andi & Carissa: "Our pup Simon enjoyed his first Pride Parade in West Hollywood on June 10!"
From Abby Lavin, a volunteer with shanghaiPRIDE, who shares this image of a "Pink Picnic" (photo taken by Linda Li)
From The Israel Project
From Chris Wadsworth: "This is (left to right) myself, Gareth and Daniel at Maspalomas GayPride 2012 in Gran Canaria, Spain. The whole island (and thousands from all over Europe) turn up for the week long event every May to celebrate and meet LGBT people from all over the world!"
From Memo Macas: "It was the first time that I ever participated in the event and I really enjoyed it, next year I'll go with my boyfriend to Mexico City's Pride Parade."
From Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge: "We made history in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Saturday, June 23, with the first ever statewide Equality March. Here's a picture of both the youngest and the oldest marchers!"
From Daniel Douglass, founder/director of Flaggots: "Here's a photo of FLAGGOTS performing to Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance with Somebody' at Philly Pride, June 10. FLAGGOTS are a group of friends from the color guard and drum corps community that come together to celebrate Pride in a most fabulous way. Founded in 1991, they have performed in at least one pride event a year for 23 consecutive years.'
From Karen Belgrad: "At my friend's apartment, overlooking the parade route, he casually tosses out beads...and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel catches them with ease! OK, and a little lunging!)"
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sergeant Don Mueller and LAX Airport Police Officer David Ayala celebrate pride as they prepare to march with over 60 other openly gay officers in the 2012 West Hollywood CSW Pride Parade.
From Bob Brennan: "Also there was a party at Allah Moana Beach Park. Everybody was gay that day."
From Keli Stooksberry: The picture on the right is my friend Courtney talking to protesters. The picture on the left is of my partner DeAnna and I kissing in front of the protesters. This was my second pride and the first interaction with protesters. I was not surprised but still overwhelmed by their presence in such a wonderful and uplifting celebration. My friend Courtney had one of them speechless by the end of their conversation not by throwing obscenities his way but rather using her knowledge of scripture. Again, I was not surprised that the man she spoke with had no more knowledge of the bible than the words written on his sign but it was priceless to see him have nothing left to say because Courtney was right!
From John Desselle: "It only took what, 42 years, for Baton Rouge to have a state wide Equality March. Headed up by Capital City Alliance: www.ccabatonrouge.org, we had representatives from all over the state. About 300 people showed up for the march. Most went on to our Baton Rouge Pride Festival which was at LSU Student Union this year."
From Michael Cruz: "I am the Secretary of the Queens Pride Lions Club. We are the first LGBT Lions Club in NYC. Here is a photo of us marching in the Queens Pride 2012 parade on June 3."
From Teena Lashmore: "Hi from Berlin!"
Melanie Pang (in pink) taking a photo with the men (and "noodles") of Jenni's Noodle House, a Houston favorite.
From William George: "This is me at Indianapolis Pride 2012. I consider myself a Pride aficionado. I love all the togetherness and the fun times. This year's Indianapolis Pride was the largest the city had ever hosted, with the festival expanding to twice the size it was previously. The headliners were Deborah Cox and Cazwell. While I didn't get to see him in person, I snapped this picture next to a promotional poster of him."
Jenny Lee tells us: "I am the girl wearing the rainbow sarong, under the banner that says 'Coming out, coming together.' It was taken in August 22, 2011 during a Wisconsin Pride parade. None of my friends was in the event. I had just finished my run that day when I noticed that something was going on. When I realized it was a LGBTQ Pride event, I went home home, grabbed my sarong that I got in Thailand and jumped right into the parade to show my support and that's why the picture. I had only been in Madison, WI for about 3 months. I moved to the city for grad school. What I noticed about the community is that it's liberal, tolerant and I felt belong...I'm straight and I stand for equality."
From gay superhero: "I didn't manage to be at the parade from the beginning, but that gave me the chance to find myself at the head of the march later, as they were going up Stadiou street. This is a central Athens street that saw a lot of disturbances during recent protests, including the death of three bank employees when their building caught fire. So it was nice to see a pacifist, colorful demonstration for a change."
Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck march in the 2012 West Hollywood CSW Pride Parade with over 60 openly gay peace officers from the LASD, LAPD, FBI and other police departments throughout southern California.
From Melissa: "This is me and my partner Jean. The first picture was taken at Toronto Pride in 2010 -- we are just up on Church Street. Our first pride and we are still very happily together 3 years later!"
From Bob: "Five-year-old corgi Carter (recently rescued from a shelter in Alabama) steps out Brooklyn to celebrate his first LGBT Pride in New York City."
From right to left: Stephanie (far right) with girlfriend Jackie (left of me) along with best friends Erika and Katie at Philadelphia Pride in front of the Ben Franklin Bridge at Penns Landing.
Sharon Needles performs at the Barefoot Wine Pride Kick Off Celebration in NYC on June 20.
Happy Gay Pride 2012 from Amarillo, TX -- Route 66 Cadillac Ranch!
Happy Gay Pride 2012 from Amarillo, Texas -- Cadilliac Ranch!
From Bob Brennan: "It was a gay (happy) sunny day on O'ahu. First there was a parade from Allah Moana Beach park to Kapiolani Park where there was a celebration. Also there was a party at Allah Moana Beach Park."
From Maosung Yao: "I went to [Long Island Pride] with my partner Walter last weekend and we had a good time with our friends as well. The pride was great even thought it was small.
From Adam Barnhardt: "I'm the one with the rainbow mohawk, the one with the Pink hair and football gear is Emilio Cordova, and the one in white with the body paint is Loa Brannigan. We were featured in Metro State's student newspaper for our bizarre homemade outfits and all around theatrical method of showing pride in our true colors."
From Angela Huerta, rider: "First time [Kristin Holloway and I] participated in Dykes on Bikes!"
Sharon Needles performs at the Barefoot Wine Pride Kick Off Celebration in NYC on June 20.
From Ashley Bartolome: "I want to show them that it's ok to be who they are and there are countless Americans who accept them. I also like to be there out of respect for the LGBT who have been killed by others -- or by their own hands -- because of their sexuality."
The Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) is a multicultural youth agency for youth of all backgrounds with the mission to support youth and their families to live, work, and study with dignity, hope and joy. LAYC staff and youth participants walked in the parade with hand-made tie-dye t-shirts handing out candy and information about LAYC's LGBT support services. We had a fantastic time feeling the love and support of the community.
From Betty Viveros: "I got the greatest experience to participate in my first of many PRIDE festivals in Phoenix, Arizona earlier this year. I went with a group of my closest friends who are all, like myself are huge LGBQT supporters. Walking around shirtless guys and half-naked girls never looked so hot...literally. It hit 100 degrees that weekend!"
Sharon Needles fans root her on at the Barefoot Wine Pride Kick Off Celebration on June 20.
From Mark Peters, who took this photo of Providence's "Nighttime Illuminated Pride Parade" on June 16.
Miss Trans New England
Follow Marni Soupcoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/soupcoff