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George Takei Commends Changes To Canada's Gay Blood Donation Policy

"Go boldly where we have never gone before. We have the future and it's going to be a better one."

George Takei had nothing but praise for Canada while visiting Toronto for Pride Month, calling special attention to the nation-wide changes made to gay blood donation.

As part of a speaker series by Pride Toronto, the human rights activist (and gay icon) commended Canada's leadership in LGBTQ marriage legislation to a crowd at Ryerson University on Sunday night.

Since Health Canada approved Canadian Blood Services' and Héma-Québec's amended gay blood donation policy in early June, the abstinence-based deferral period is now on par with the U.S.

In conversation with The Huffington Post Canada, Takei said he believed Canada's reduced time was "a good thing."

"Nothing happens in one fell swoop," he said. "Change does not happen overnight."

In addition to his LGBTQ rights community work, the "Star Trek" actor has previously rallied against the U.S.'s lifetime ban on gay blood donation, which was shortened in 2015 to its current one-year period of abstinence for men who have sex with men.

Takei said that as he understands it, there is more criteria surrounding who gets to donate blood in Canada, a stance that falls in line with Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD) director Jeremy Dias, who attended Takei's event.

As a high school student, Dias was rejected when he tried to donate blood. He told HuffPost Canada that the reduced deferral is progress, albeit a move that continues to perpetuate homophobia.

"I think it’s total bullshit. This ban creates stigma, it creates hatred towards LGBTQ people," Dias said. "The ban should have never happened in the first place."

Backlash greeted new policy

The new policy announcement was met with some backlash from those who call the 12-month wait homophobic and say it should have been completely abolished instead. Canadians, including VICE journalist Justin Ling, put the onus on the Liberal government to overturn the gay blood donation ban, after the party pledged to end it during the 2015 election campaign.

Canadian Blood Services has also been accused of transphobia for a policy change that stated that blood collection services would put transgender women who have sex with men in the same category as gay men.

Dias and the CCGSD work with the Men Having Sex With Men (MSM) Deferral Policy Working Group, which helped propose the existing Canadian Blood Services guidelines.

In a statement by the CCGSD, they say the reduced wait is "not a win."

"We know that the deferral practice does contribute to a culture of discrimination, oppression, heterosexism & cissexism. We at the Centre completely oppose any deferral period," it reads.

Dias said the group's reason for not advocating dropping the ban altogether was that there isn't enough research available that would protect other vulnerable groups from being targeted in the future.

"Only evidence-based research has influenced the blood collection process," Dias said. "If we successfully lobby the government to change policies without evidence-based research, then what’s to stop them tomorrow from changing the policy to stop Muslim people from donating blood?"

Previously, a $500,000 grant made available for research into why the blood ban should be removed was ignored. With the announcement of the 12-month deferral,

Canadian Blood Service reported it will launch a $3 million grant for researchers to investigate LGBTQ discrimination in blood collection.

“I think it's a good thing. Nothing happens in one fell swoop.”

For Takei, LGBTQ legislation is dear to his heart. He first came out as gay in 2005, which he told the Toronto crowd was in response to former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's veto of a same-sex marriage bill.

He ended his talk Toronto talk with an optimistic message for Canadians and LGBTQ activists.

"Go boldly where we have never gone before. We have the future and it's going to be a better one," Takei told the crowd.

Tainted blood donations infected an estimated 2,000 Canadians with HIV and 60,000 others with Hepatitis C in 1981. At the time, the Canadian Red Cross had inadequate screening methods for HIV, leading to regulations banning donations from men who have sex with men.

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