As January is National Blood Donor Month, it is perfect timing to touch on some new GSRD History! Just last April, Health Canada approved the submission from Canadian Blood Services to remove the criteria specific to men who have sex with men, and the implementation of the sexual behavior-based screening criteria instead. The sexual behavior-based screening will also be a required of all donors, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. This new screening took effect as of September 2022. Let’s take a look at the history of Canadian Blood Donations and GSRD individuals.
The “worst-ever preventable public health disaster in Canada” occurred in the 1980s when at least 2,000 Canadians contracted HIV through blood transfusions. Due to the unfortunate correlation between HIV/AIDS and homosexual men at the time, an eligibility requirement was established that, as of 1992, prevented any male who had intercourse with another man since 1977 from giving blood.
Although the requirements for eligibility changed a little over time, some gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men still found them to be a barrier. The criteria were revised in 2013, requiring a GSRD individual to wait five years after having sex with a male before donating blood; they were revised again in 2016, to a one-year delay; and in 2019, to a three-month wait.
By September 30, 2022, GSRD-specific screening questions for blood donation will no longer exist. Instead, questions on sexual activity in the last three months and higher-risk sexual behaviours will be asked of everyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual preference. Health Canada called this change “a significant milestone toward a more inclusive blood donation system”.
This adjustment is long overdue, according to many people in the GSRD community. The discriminatory ban’s need to be lifted has been advocated by the All Blood is Equal Coalition. Coalition Chair, Toby Whitfield expressed his viewpoint, saying, “The change in blood donor policies at Canadian Blood Services is long overdue and marks a significant victory in our efforts to end the discriminatory blood ban. For decades the blood ban perpetuated homophobic and transphobic discrimination against the 2SLGBTQ+ community. While our work will continue, today’s announcement is an important step towards righting this wrong.”