The Liberal Party Took Gay Money In Promising to End the Blood Ban. They Failed Us
Justin Trudeau promised a blood donation policy based on scientific evidence. But that's not what happened.
Just a week before they were elected last year, Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party posted a petition.
"END THE GAY BLOOD DONATION BAN"
The website has Trudeau sitting onstage with Seamus O'Regan. Sitting directly across from them is Scott Brison. Standing offstage is Glen Murray. O'Regan is now a Member of Parliament, Brison is one of Trudeau's ministers, and Murray is a minister in the Ontario government of Kathleen Wynne, Canada's first openly-gay leader. And, unless things are bad at home, not one of the three are allowed to donate blood.
"Canadian Blood Services (CBS) & Héma-Québec (HM-QC) currently ban gay men who have been sexually active at any point in the previous 5 years from donating blood, even if it's been entirely safe and monogamous," read the Liberal petition.
"It's a ban that ignores scientific evidence, and it needs to end."
More than 5,000 people agreed and signed the petition—plenty more than the 2,500 that the Liberals were shooting for. Each of those 5,000-plus people gave over their email address and were redirected to a donation page, where they were encouraged to fork over $20.16, $100, $250, $1,525, or any other number they felt like.
And so that money went into a big pot of cash, and it funded ads of a sunny, happy Trudeau promising to make all of our dreams come true. And, I assume, a kiddie pool full of Sunny D.
We asked the Liberal Party just how much cash they raised on this and, well, they wouldn't tell us.
"The link you've shared is for a petition, not a fundraiser—although some grassroots supporters may have chosen to make a contribution after signing," one spokesperson said in an email.
Queer money led to queer commitments.
Trudeau promises to march in a pride parade; Trudeau promises to apologize on behalf of Canada for the queers that the government of Canada rounded up and threw in jail; Trudeau promises to finally pass into law a bill protecting trans people from abuse and discrimination.
All great things, but not a single one was a tough choice.
The first real test of the Liberal government's commitment to every friend of Dorothy came this week, when the Canadian Blood Service was readying to announce that it would be updating its eligibility policies for men-who-have-sex-with-men (but also trans women and partners of the aforementioned guys).
It would be dropping the five-year celibacy requirement to—wait for it—one year. The change will impact approximately one gay man (his name is Jim and he's been on an 18-month dry spell. Things will turn around, Jim.)
You're welcome, queers!
According to Dr. Graham Sher, chief executive officer of the Canadian Blood Services: "This is an exciting, incremental step forward—" OK, something can't be both be exciting and incremental, that is a contradiction in terms "—in updating our blood donation criteria based on the latest scientific evidence—" of which there is none that really suggests that this is necessary "—Canadian Blood Services is dedicated to being as minimally restrictive as possible, while also maintaining the safety of the blood supply."
Right, because nothing says "minimally restrictive" like telling ten percent of the population that they need to stop fucking for the next 365 days because their sex is gross and will kill scores of people.
If I sound angry about this, I am. Because, without telling you too much about my sex life: I am banned from donating blood.
We reached out to the office of Jane Philpott, our Minister of Health. Her office provided a response that amounted to: our hands are tied.
"When reviewing the submission, Health Canada cannot impose a less stringent requirement than what the blood operators propose — it may only impose a more stringent requirement, i.e., increasing a deferral period," a spokesperson said.
First off: that's not really true.
If you actually go and read the 200-odd pages of Health Canada's Blood Regulations (note to self: form a metal band called Blood Regulations) you'd see section 13, subsection 1:
"The Minister may add terms and conditions to an establishment's authorization or amend its terms and conditions... [if] the Minister has reasonable grounds to believe that it is necessary to do so to prevent a compromise to human safety or the safety of blood."
Oh jeez, then, done deal, eh?
Unless you read section 13, subsection 5:
"The Minister may, by notice in writing, remove a term or condition from an authorization if she or he determines that the term or condition is no longer necessary to prevent a compromise to human safety or the safety of blood."
Now, the spokesperson did note that Health Canada is providing $3 million in funding to push Canadian Blood Services to study dropping the ban altogether.
"We are confident that any remaining barriers to MSM blood donation will be removed – it is only a question of when. Our government will continue to work diligently toward that goal," they said.
So, in other words: we know it's wrong, we just need to pretend that we're not totally sure if it's wrong for another few years. In the interim, this policy propagates discrimination and homophobia.
And remember, this isn't blood (something we've got a fair bit of), it's organs, too. The federal government has policies in place that strictly forbid gay men from donating organs. And if you think that our healthcare system is above asking the mothers of dead gay men about their son's sexual habits well, this next paragraph is going to upset you.
"I was asked if he was a gay male and I said, 'yes.' And I was asked if he was a sexually active gay male or if he had a partner and I said, 'yes,'" Nancy Campana told the CBC in 2013. Her son, Rocky, had committed suicide, and his organs were rejected.
I wrote an article about this new policy when it came out on Monday. It was met with such reasoned replies as: "Get over it. Some don't want your blood" and "if your sexual habits land you in a high risk group...It's not anti gay. It's simple science." The amount of thinly-veiled homophobia I've seen in the last week regarding this ban is, honestly, confounding.
Here's the thing: there's no science behind this and goddammit, lots of people want my blood. This is discrimination, pure and simple, for the flimsiest of reasons. It's discriminatory when a man can't give blood to his husband. To explain why, you're going to need a history lesson.
Don't you dare close this tab, you sonovabitch.
So in 1985, roughly 2,000 Canadians contracted HIV from blood transfusions, tens of thousands more contracted Hepatitis C.
An inquiry into the disaster fired blame towards the Red Cross, the Canadian government, and just about everyone involved.
As Globe & Mail health reporter Andre Picard, who literally wrote the book on the subject, wrote in 2005: "The public was lied to about the real risks of infection, told the risk was 'one in a million' when it was as high as one in 166 for major surgery; blood products that were known to be unsafe were distributed to hemophiliacs to save money; in fact, lists were drawn up of patients who should get the inferior product."
Police charges were later filed. Compensation, after years of refusals by governments, was finally given out. Governments, after years of deadly indifference, began addressing the AIDS crisis.
Out of all this came a discriminatory policy: gay men would never be allowed to donate blood. America, the United Kingdom, and a slew of other Western countries adopted similar policies.
Maybe, at the time, it was prudent, but that doesn't make it any less homophobic.
The policy didn't improve screening, or advance testing—it banned an entire sexuality in a reflexive attempt to look proactive after painful incompetence.
But, hey, throwing gays under the bus was totally du jour at the time. We had sex and contracted a totally unknown, incomprehensible, and maddeningly deadly autoimmune virus, and you ignored it for years while thousands died only to turn around and ban us from aspects of the healthcare system because bureaucratic incompetence and institutional conspiracy allowed straight people to contract the virus as well. C'est la vie!
And, true, there was no effective screening mechanism for HIV in 1985.
But fast-forward to today. The absolute ban is gone, in favour of an almost-absolute ban. An "unscientific" ban, according to the eggheads who now make up our government. Screening, however, is top-notch.
Men who have sex with men—not including those who are intravenous drug users—now make up just under half of the HIV-positive population. Just under one-third of those living in Canada with HIV are heterosexual (excluding drug users) and the remainder are intravenous drug users.
But a critical number here is who is getting diagnosed, and who doesn't know it. Realistically, no HIV-positive person who is aware that they're HIV-positive is going to walk into a blood clinic and try to donate.
Estimates from the Public Health Agency of Canada say that 18 percent of men-who-have-sex-with-men who contracted the virus were unaware. That number is 20 percent for intravenous drug users and 28 percent for heterosexuals.
If you do the math, it means that roughly the same number of queer men are living with HIV and unaware of their status as there are straight Canadians in the same state.
So, remind me again how this is scientifically sound?
There is no criteria banning Canadians who were born in countries with high HIV-prevalence rates, like Botswana and Swaziland.
You know why?
Because it would be fucking discriminatory.
So shrugging off the ban on gay men as "science" is simple horseshit.
One of the main motivations for the Canadian Blood Services is money. Right now, they batch-test blood. Basically, they take samples from a bunch of blood bags, mix it together into a weird blood orgy, and test all of the blood. If the test comes back positive, they test each individual bag. That can increase costs. So, accepting that they're going to be able to detect HIV anyway, there's a good reason to do everything possible to prevent HIV-positive people from donating blood.
You know a good way to do that? Ask people the right questions.
The Canadian Blood Service maintains that they can't establish life-style based screening—i.e. "Have you banged more than three dudes since you walked into this clinic?" or "Are you currently having sex with your nurse?"—because gosh, it's too hard.
"Given that Canadian Blood Services' blood donor clinics are not staffed to provide individual medical risk consultations for every donor, the criteria for blood donation must be simple and easy to apply," the same Q&A reads, under a heading that asks: "Why not ask about safe sex practices or monogamy instead of all MSM [men-who-have-sex-with-men] behaviour?"
Yet, the government-regulated agency does exactly that for women (who are, I should point out, the source of one-quarter of new HIV infections every year).
Questions on the form include: "Have you had sex with anyone who has AIDS or has tested positive for HIV or AIDS?" and "Have you had sex in the last 12 months with anyone who has ever taken illegal drugs with a needle?"
Hey, those sound like individual medical risk consultations.
So how about we get rid of that blanket ban on men-who-have-sex-with-men, and instead ask things like:
"Gay men: Have you had one committed sexual partner for the past 12 months? Y/N"
"Gay men: Do you always have safe sex? Y/N"
"Gay men: Pick your favourite diva: Cher/Madonna"
The fact remains that Justin Trudeau promised to end this shit. He promised it to the gay men in his caucus, the gay men in his cabinet, the queer men who donated to his party, and to every queer guy in Canada.
Every day this policy is in place is an insult.
The correct answer, by the way, is Cher.
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