On September 26th and 27th, Héma-Québec is hosting a blood drive at Vanier, but you won’t see me, or anyone like me, in line to donate. It’s not because we don’t want to, it’s because we aren’t allowed to. Why? Because we’re gay men.
Like many blood-collection organizations worldwide, Héma-Québec has a 12-month deferral policy for men who have had sex with men (MSM). The organization, along with its nationwide equivalent, the Canadian Blood Services, claims this policy is fairer than the five-year deferral it replaced in August this year. They’re wrong.
Their policy is discriminatory, plain and simple. Héma-Québec says that they cannot risk accidental transmission of HIV. According to them, 10% of MSM have the disease – a figure for which, it is worth noting, they have provided no evidence on their website. That claim is dubious at best, and is more than likely based on an offensive stereotype of gay people.
Now let’s do some math. Even if Héma-Québec’s estimate is correct – which is unlikely, given advances in safe-sex technology and attitudes – the risk factor upon which they have supposedly based their policy is nonexistent. According to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control (CDC), just 6% of men have sexual contact with other men by the age of 44. That means that about 94% of men who donate blood are exclusively heterosexual. But among exclusive heterosexuals, the incidence of HIV is just under 1%, according to Héma-Québec. Statistically, you’re almost exactly as likely to receive infected blood from a heterosexual man as from a gay man.
So why are we really excluded?
Homophobia. Health services are the only remaining extension of government in Canada that can legally discriminate against gay men, and they take full advantage of this. You may think the deferral is fair because it’s only a one-year ban,but unless an MSM like myself has a truly boring year, he will never be allowed to donate blood. The same applies to women who have had sex with such men, effectively barring bisexuals from the process too.
To add insult to injury, the blood deferral information page of Héma-Québec’s website prominently features a banner with a man and a woman, which reads “Go as a couple”. Ouch.
This has become a lot more of an issue in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. It’s no coincidence that the largest mass shooting in American history was committed against gay people, in one of the only spaces where they feel safe. The global queer (LGBTQ) community was affected by this hate crime of unprecedented proportions, and an outpour of support ensued. And yet, because the United States has a 12-month deferral policy, gay men were not allowed to donate blood to save the lives of their own community members. I don’t need to tell you how heart wrenching that is.
Several student activist groups from around the world, such as the students association at Ottawa’s Carleton University, have decided to ban blood clinics on campus, to protest the archaic law. Vanier College still allows Héma-Québec to collect blood – and if you can donate blood, please do – but at least for now, the blood drive is a lasting symbol of discrimination in a school that strives for diversity and inclusion.
Written By: Colin Golding