5 Reasons Canada’s Gay Blood Ban Change is A Joke

Canada has just announced it will drop its lifetime ban on gay men giving blood for a deferral period of five years in which time gay men must remain celibate.

Here are five reasons this supposed change adds up to little more than a bad joke.

1. The Lifetime Ban Repeal is Virtually Meaningless

The lifetime ban has been in place for the past 30 years. As such, the change announced by Canadian Blood Services, which it hopes to have in place by mid-summer, has been called “a very significant change.”

It’s really not a change at all.

A lifetime ban reduced to a five year abstinence mandate on men who have sex with men (MSM) adds up to the same thing:

Gay men who are sexually active, regardless of whether they are in monogamous relationships or practicing safe-sex, are still banned from donating blood.

Even the Canadian Blood Services, while lauding what good work they’ve done, have had to recognize this.

“So the message to them today is to simply bear with us,” Dana Devine, vice-president of medical, scientific and research affairs at Canadian Blood Services, is quoted as saying.

“We are working toward attempting to make the opportunity for additional people to donate blood … and we just aren’t quite there yet for that group of people.”

How many gay men do you know who have been abstinent for the past five years? The proportion of the population is incredibly small.

In fact, the only people this may functionally benefit are priests. The jokes write themselves.

2. The 5 Year Deferral Period is Entirely Unnecessary

This foot-dragging is being lauded as a good first step with more action to be taken once the blood service has finished data gathering.

Here’s the rub: the studying has already been done and screening methods are already incredibly sophisticated.

Testing has historically relied on something called the ELISA method which screens for immune system responses to viral infection, like the presence of antibodies.

The ELISA method, while sensitive and still in use today in most countries, has a drawback. HIV infection can take as long as three to six months, though usually about 22 days, to present.

Newer tests, like those known as p24 antigen tests and Nucleic acid tests, have dramatically shortened that window to around 12 days.

This is also where the questionnaire screenings come in.

Through a series of questions asked prior to taking blood, it can be determined if a potential donor is at a high risk of contaminating the supply.

This currently includes history of intravenous drug use, residency in countries with a high rate of HIV such as sub-Saharan Africa, those who engage in prostitution, and, of course, a history of same-sex sexual encounters among men.

With these tests and the good faith of blood donors already assumed, the system when working properly is robust enough to catch infection risk at multiple points.

You will note though that the questionnaire categories betray a false comparison.

Intravenous drug use is a particular behavior that creates a greater risk of infection.

Having sex with another man does not of itself generate such risks, yet the ban hinges on this idea. This is discriminatory and, as you will see below, it is easy to show precisely why it is unfair.

3. The Ban Still Treats Gay Men As Though Being Gay Is A Health Risk

The ban’s logic goes like this:

  • Men who have sex with men are more likely to engage in anal sex.
  • Unprotected anal sex dramatically increases the risk of HIV transmission among men who have sex with men.
  • Therefore, all men who have sex with men must be considered high risk.

Add to this the following, antiquated assumptions:

  • Gay men are promiscuous and do not engage in safe sex.
  • Expression of homosexuality is diseased.

True, these won’t appear on any formal policy paper, but it is the prevailing bad logic. How do we know this?

It is the only reason why you would target gay men and not target, well, straight men.

Straight men are just as capable of having multiple sexual partners and practicing unsafe sex. Polls show (ha!) they also engage in anal sex.

Why is a straight man given the okay to be as bed hopping, carefree and potentially contaminating as he likes, while a gay man in a monogamous relationship who has maintained good sexual practices throughout his life is still targeted by the ban?

At the rise of the HIV epidemic, when HIV was thought of as a gay disease, this policy may have seemed prudent. As other nations have now shown, it is archaic and outmoded.

4. Allowing Gay Men to Donate Blood Has Been Done

On Christmas Day 2012, Mexico changed its ban on gay men donating blood for a policy that instead focuses on risky behavior among the population regardless of their sexual orientation.

Mexico’s new rules ban people with hepatitis or HIV and their partners from donating blood. It also identifies “risky sexual practices” and defines them in a sensible and deliberate way.

These include “contact or exchange of blood, sexual secretions or other bodily secretions between someone who might have a transmittable disease and areas of another person’s body through which an infectious agent might be able to penetrate.”

During its review process, Mexico officials noted that there would be a slight statistical increase in risk created by incorporating gay men. That can’t be argued against.

However, they concluded this could easily be mitigated by the stringent screening practices that were already in place.

If Canada can manage to fix its lapses in blood stock handling, there appears no reason why it should be any different.

Also, for Mexico’s national blood supply, which around the world lives in a state of shortage, the potential benefits of lifting the ban far outweighed the slight increase in risk.

With that, we can also see that Canada’s five year deferral fails a most basic of tests: increasing the blood supply.

5. Canada’s Blood Donation Rule Change Won’t Increase Blood Stocks

The amount of people affected by this change to Canada’s blood donation policy stands to be so small that there will be little positive benefit for blood stocks.

The discriminatory policy, then, is still endangering lives because it treats gay people as though they are, in and of themselves, health risks and therefore bars them from giving blood when blood stocks are always low and, on occasion, dangerously so.

To be clear, Canada isn’t the only country with this kind of nonsensical policy.

The United Kingdom has instituted a similar one year deferral policy, while a number of European and Commonwealth nations still cling to similar discriminatory bans.

It is a shame, however, that after such a drawn out process, this is the best that Canadian Blood Services could manage.

Meanwhile, the United States is still considering its lifetime ban. Hopefully, U.S. officials will see the sense of gauging risk by behavior and not by identity, but it remains unclear if there is any real chance of meaningful action.

Image credit: Thinkstock.


Scott Parrish
Scott Parrish2 years ago

The FDA is incompetent. They can't come up with a reasonable blood donor questionnaire. The FDA can be abolished. They don't care about public health.

Samantha Richardson

I remember not being able to give blood once in Australia because I gave oral to a bisexual man, and because I couldn't answer whether he had slept with a man recently, I was on probation. I get wanting to be safe when it comes to collecting blood, but young women are the highest risk group for contracting HIV, so this is just barely veiled homophobia.

Diarmuid O Sullivan

Same here in Ireland. Cant donate if you had sex with a man if you're male, Or if you got a tattoo
in the previous 6 months. Cuts out a lot of people who would gladly donate.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

Thank you for posting.

Richard E Cooley
Richard E Cooley4 years ago

If they are doing their job correctly & checking/screening the blood it shouldn't matter if it comes from a gay or a heterosexual.

Mary T.
Mary T4 years ago

Haven't donate blood since 2005, when the US banned people lived in Europe in the 80s because of the Mad Cow Disease

there's no test for Mad Cow Disease, but there are test for HIV, test people instead of banning them for life

Aud Nordby
Aud nordby4 years ago


Holly M.
Holly M4 years ago

Straight people engage in anal sex, unsafe sex, promiscuity and get HIV from each other. I once worked with a guy who admitted to a blood donation tech that part of the reason he was donating blood was to check his HIV status. There is no such thing as "straight blood" or "gay blood." Any testing on blood will pick up what it is being tested for, regardless of the donor's orientation. I hope they go the way of Mexico in regards to blood donations.

Wendy Walinski
Wendy Walinski4 years ago

seriously, what a joke

Ron Mohler
Ron Mohler4 years ago

Brian S. and Glenda L. PLEASE get real. Homosexual sex is no more or less dangerous or risky then heteral sex, or any other kind. The only kind of sex that is safe is NO SEX (abstinence) and I don't think that the world is quite ready for everyone to do that! OK, I can see some moralists making the claim that unmarried people should not be having sex, but do you really expect that to happen. And were do you expect all the blood to come from? The tainted blood case was from BEFORE there where tests, and there are at least as many cases of Hep. transmitted as HIV. Be safe, yes, be careful, yes. But to ban an entire group, do to out dated and false ideas that we now know are totally untrue is stupid and dangerous. And if you think you are not going to be exposed to, or can't get HIV from only having sex with heteral partners, think again!