May 17: NSRAP Shares Progress on Ending the Blood Ban

Posted by Wayves volunteer 18/05/13

By Lucas Thorne-Humphrey

First I feel compelled to tell everyone how ecstatic I am that you’re all here together.  It’s a challenge to not let apathy or competing interests and commitments take priority over events like this.  This is a symbolic occasion but an important one.  Our assembly makes an important statement.  It helps us remember the value of struggles won, people that have lost dearly in the fight, and helps us focus on hurdles yet to overcome.

One such hurdle is a vestige of a time that seems to some of us like a distant history.  To other more veteran members of our community all to recent and painful one. I want to take some time today to address the topic of the “blood ban” as it is often described.

In the mid-1980‘s Canadian Blood Services‘ predecessor, the Canadian Red Cross introduced a now infamous donor exclusion criterion.  Please note my indignant quotes in describing all “men” who have had “sex” with “men” since 1977 as being barred from donation indefinitely. This policy has contributed to institutional discrimination against Canadians and is in drastic need of changing. 

After nearly three decades of social and scientific progress the Canadian Blood Services is still mandated by Health Canada to enforce rules that harm our community.  This harm can be the tangible in terms of limiting our rights to participate in society.  This harm can also be the less tangible type where our discrimination and marginalization eventually leads to violence.

NSRAP has been working since 1995 across Nova Scotia as a voice for the LGBTQI Community. Part of our role is advocating for Nova Scotians’ access to equitable and ethical health care, which includes the promotion of non-discriminatory and evidence-based blood collection and delivery services

Over the past year I have had many meetings between advocacy groups with a similar mandates from across the country and the Canadian Blood Services.  To their credit Canadian Blood Services has facilitated working groups and now a standing committee that is composed of both LGBTQ community groups and groups similar to our own, but advocating for the rights of those that accept blood.   Those advocating on the behalf of those that accept blood include The Canadian Hemophilia Society and The Canadian Immunodeficiency Society whom in the past have advocated for no change to the policy. 

During our meetings together we worked from what seemed completely opposed viewpoints to a compromise that I am proud to call a first step. This agreement was a near unanimous declaration that we would support changing to a 5 year deferral period (for now), with the accompanying promise to reexamine the ban and with continued evidence further move to a behaviorally based, genderless questionnaire. The efforts of this group, as well as the efforts of the Canadian Blood Service, will hopefully be successful in convincing our federal Minister of Health to make this incremental change, currently under review.

I would like to acknowledge the participation and efforts of patient advocacy groups for those that accept blood.   One of the ideas that struck me the most from our meetings was that we are really all part of a marginalized group.   Many courageous people I have met there knew first hand the effects of a history of tainted blood scandals, and had friends whom have succumbed due to the illnesses they contracted from blood products.   These stories and remaining fears reminded me all to well of those within my own marginalized community also affected by this legacy. 

It is in this spirit that I hope that critics of supporting a 5 year deferral will agree that compromise is necessary to satisfy most parties involved that are affected by these issues.  Together we can get where we want to be but not overnight, and certainly not without exchanges of understanding like the ones I have had the pleasure to be part of on behalf of NSRAP.

It is vital to ensure that everyone has access to a reliable blood supply; that we able to contribute to further the health of our communities.  It is for this reason that NSRAP has voted to support a change to a 5 year deferral with the promise of further incremental changes in a timely and evidence based manner  toward an eventual behavioral based screening tool, one that does not exclude Canadians from donating blood based on the sex of their chosen partner. 

I know you are here to be part of the change you want to see. I hope you will continue to support NSRAP either symbolically or with your every day and volunteering efforts.  It is in part through this way that we seek to clear more hurdles and continue to advance LGBTQI rights for everyone.

Editor's Note: Lucas Thorne-Humphrey is a long serving Board Member of NSRAP and chairs their Health Committee. He is a pharmacist and a graduate of Dalhousie University, where he served as President of DalOut. Wayves is pleased to share his thoughtful words on the status of the ban on gay men wishing to donate blood.

Photos: Photos are by Kirk Furlotte, NSRAP. The first photo is of Lucas Thorne-Humphrey addressing the crowd and the second is of the human chain making its way back into Grand Parade. Wayves thanks the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP) for making these photos and Mr. Thorne-Humphrey's speech available for publication. 

You can also follow NSRAP on facebook.

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