St. John’s, NL – On Thursday, April 28, 2022 Canadian Blood Services (CBS) announced that Health Canada had approved its request to remove eligibility criteria specific to Two-Spirit, gay, bi, queer men, other men who have sex with men, and trans women by September 30, 2022. Changes in blood donor policies will see all donors, regardless of their gender or sexuality, be screened the same in relation to sexual behaviours that may indicate a higher risk of infection, and specific questions pertaining to whether a man has had sex with another man or if a trans person has had lower gender-affirming surgery will be removed. These changes apply to both blood and plasma donations, outside of Quebec.

As a provincial organization with over four decades’ experience supporting gay, bi, and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM), ACNL welcomes the long-overdue changes to these long-standing discriminatory, anti-Black, homophobic, and transphobic practices. We commend the tireless work and decades of advocacy from queer and 2SLGBTQIA+ people, sex workers, and HIV/AIDS activists and advocates. We also recognize that in the time it took to end the bans, we lost many brilliant and wonderful people whose legacies live and shine on in good decisions like this one.

While this is a significant step forward and important in righting these wrongs, there is still work to be done to make blood and plasma donor policies more inclusive and reflective of science.

The original choice to ban gbMSM from donating blood is harmful and stigmatizing, and has contributed to years of fear and misconceptions among the public. Much like what AIDS service and queer and 2SLGBTQIA+ groups and organizations have already been doing, CBS needs to implement mass public and staff education campaigns and programs aimed at reducing stigma and stereotypes placed wrongly on gbMSM. Furthermore, new changes in policy continues to unfairly target people who have had anal sex with new or multiple sex partners in the last three months, which indirectly bans and discriminates against gbMSM who engage in anal sex and may not be monogamous. Screening and testing processes also continue to limit people who take PrEP or PEP (both highly effective HIV prevention medications) from donating blood. CBS also has a long history of donor policies that discriminate against people who inject drugs (PWID) and that are rooted in anti-Black racism through exclusionary practices based on a person’s country of origin.

Canada’s history of banning gbMSM from donating blood has its roots in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Moving forward, we hope that people living with HIV or with living or lived experience of hepatitis C, including PWID, will be included in these conversations and in any policy changes, particularly around U=U and blood donation. CBS has a lot more work to do to build trust and connection with Black, PWID, queer and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities in Canada. We hope to see more intentional and authentic partnerships and meaningful opportunities for these communities to engage and participate fully in future policy changes in donating blood.

Shane Pope BSW, RSW
Provincial Coordinator of HIV/HCV Services
AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador
[email protected]
709-579-8656 ext. 22