Canadian Blood Services adopts inclusive screening practices

The new policy will reduce the stigma around queer men and HIV/AIDS

an individual in a blue shirt and black pants is sitting down with his arm outstretched. A doctor wearing white gloves is applying pressure to his arm with gauze. The individual is donating blood.
Michael Kwag discusses how the blood ban is a part of medical discrimination. Image Courtesty of Unsplash (Nguyễn Hiệp)

By: Chloë Arneson, News Writer

Canadian Blood Sevices (CBS) has announced that by September 30, 2022, queer men will be eligible to donate blood. Previously, gay and bisexual men were not eligible to donate blood if they had been sexually involved with men within a three-month span. On April 28th, Health Canada approved the CBS submission to change screening policies. The updated policy includes universal screening criteria that encompasses everyone who has sex with men, rather than only queer men. 

This means that regardless of gender or sexual orientation, each donor will be asked the same questions regarding their sexual health. Previously, screening questions regarding sexual activity was only asked to people in the LBGTQIA2S+ community.

Additionally, transgender donors will no longer be asked screening questions based on their sex assigned at birth. Non-binary donors will still be required to register with CBS in a binary gender. 

In an interview with The Peak, acting director of Community Based Research Centre (CBRC), Micheal Kwag discussed the policy update. CBRC is a non-profit organization that “promotes the health of people of diverse sexualities and genders.” In their press release, CBRC stated that LGBTQIA2S+ communities have “have long faced challenges when it comes to our health and well-being.”

“There are many folks in the community who are disappointed these changes didn’t go further in ensuring more gay, bi, and queer men could donate.” After the changes in CBS’s criteria, any donor regardless of gender who has had anal sex with a new partner will be required to wait three months before they can donate.

Kwag explained the blood ban was “one of the recommendations that came out of the Krever Inquiry, which was set up to investigate the tainted blood scandal which led to thousands of folks who received blood transfusions acquiring HIV.

“It effectively amounted to a blood ban on any gay men who wanted to donate,” said Kwag. This ban has changed throughout Canada’s history, starting first as an outright ban, then limiting the number of queer men who could donate by regulating their sexual activity. 

According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, LGBTQIA2S+ peoples are more likely than heterosexual cisgender people to be diagnosed with “cancer, chronic fatigue, and heart disease.” They note that due to negative experiences with the medical system, queer people are “less likely to have family doctors” or seek out treatment. Historical medical discrimination during the HIV/AIDS crisis and the treatment of queerness as a mental disorder contributes to these fears. 

“The blood ban has been a type of public policy that has contributed a lot of stigma, misinformation, and ignorance about our communities,” said Kwag. “The fact that the policy existed was used to legitimize hate and discrimination towards our communitites.” He went on to explain that many queer people are afraid to navigate the medical system due to judgement and many also face barriers when trying to access care. 

CBRC has launched a new survey to discover more about health in the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Their goal is to “tell politicians, policy-makers, and service providers about the challenges and needs of our communities.”

You can follow CBRC for more information as well as updates via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.