Over a year ago, Canada lifted a 30-year-old prohibition on gay men donating blood. However, Canada Blood Services still includes a ban on blood donations from any man who has had sex with another man in the past five years. Today, the Young Liberals of Canada launched a campaign to end this discriminatory practice.
When the full ban was lifted, Dana Devine, the executive director of the CBS, wrote, "We are working toward attempting to make the opportunity for additional people to donate blood...we just aren't quite there yet for that group of people." Instead, the agency put in place the five-year abstinence requirement.
Let me just be clear about why this is a discriminatory practice. First, men who sleep with other men (MSM) are not one monolithic "group of people." Some are gay men in long-term, monogamous relationships. Some are men who are have unsafe sex with women but are always safe when they have gay sex.
I cite these two divergent hypothetical examples because I think they prove the peril of generalizing and creating a category of people based on something as individual as sexual practices.
Moreover, when the initial, full ban was put in place, the Red Cross was reacting to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Obviously, treatment for and understanding of HIV/AIDS has come a long way since the stigmatizing and fearful start of the crisis. As a society, we have come a long way from those prejudiced days as well. While there is more to do to ensure anyone -- be they gay, bisexual, straight or questioning -- practices safe sex, singling out men who sleep with men for limiting treatment flies in the face of equity and of safety.
It is unsafe to exclude people from donating blood based on a generalization with no particular screening for the unique circumstances of an individual.
A UCLA study showed that potentially millions of lives could be saved were the U.S. to repeal its ban. We can no doubt extrapolate similar results for Canada.
And quite frankly, a ban that says, effectively, "we don't mind if you're gay, but if you do gay things, that's a deal breaker" is the same in principle to the discriminatory "lifestyle" policy of Trinity Western University, whose law school Bars across the country have refused to accredit.
That is why the Young Liberals of Canada want a policy that is based on evidence, because no single, loosely defined group should be discriminated against based on generalized statistics, perceptions or prejudices. A blanket ban on sexually active MSM is not merely discriminatory; it's unsafe.
Instead, we need evidence-based policies that screen for risky sexual behaviours. Similar methods exist in Mexico, Spain, Italy, Chile and Portugal with fully successful results, because these countries screen donors based on individuals' sexual behaviour, not their sexual orientation, dealing with the individual person in front of them, not a generalized assumption rooted in 1980s-era prejudices. Plus, all donated blood is already comprehensively tested for infectious diseases.
More than half of all Canadians have a family member who has needed blood for medical treatments, and any unnecessary, discriminatory limits on MSM donating blood puts Canadian lives at stake. When a loved one is facing trauma, no one cares whether it's straight blood or gay blood. Canadians just want safe blood, and it's in all of us to give.
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