A new poll finds that a majority of Canadians support the recent repeal of a lifetime deferral on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
Nearly six in 10 respondents (59 percent), according to a survey from Narrative Research and the Logit Group, said they supported recent policy changes that eliminate some restrictions on queer male blood donors. While men were previously barred from giving blood if they had engaged in sexual contact with someone of the same sex within the past three months, the new rules recommended to Health Canada by Canadian Blood Services will no longer screen potential donors based on their sexual orientation.
Of the 1,230 Canadians polled between June 27 and 29, 39 percent “completely support” the policy change, while 20 percent “mostly support” it. Just 17 percent of respondents opposed the amended blood donor regulations, which are expected to be rolled out through the end of September. Another 14 percent of those polled expressed a neutral opinion toward the new policies, while 10 percent weren’t sure.
In a press release accompanying the report, pollsters noted that people of all genders were likely to support lifting blood deferral guidelines for queer donors—although women were most positive toward the changes. Older adults were more opposed to queer blood donations than people of younger ages.
Of those who were in the middle, it’s difficult to know which parts of the new policy they did and did not support—as Narrative Research and the Logit Group did not clarify the specifics of the Canadian Blood Services recommendations. Respondents were merely asked: “Recently, it was announced that Canada is lifting a ban on blood donations from sexually active men who have sex with men. To what extent do you support or oppose the change in policy on blood donation?”
The lack of additional information is particularly relevant in that the new guidelines have come under fire from some LGBTQ2S+ activists for continuing to place what they say are burdensome restrictions on queer donors.
Under the updated rules, men who have sex with men (MSMs) are still unable to give blood or plasma if they have engaged in anal intercourse within the past three months. In fact, any individual who has participated in penetrative anal sex with a partner of any gender will be unable to donate until after that three-month window has passed.
Although health authorities say the new guidelines aren’t aimed at queer men specifically and are intended to screen for “high risk” behaviours, critics say these policies still prevent many men from being able to donate blood. Although some queer men do not participate in anal sex as part of their sexual practices, many do.
“I want to be excited about this news. I really do,” said Christopher Karas, who filed a complaint seeking the end of Canada’s ban on queer blood donors, said in an interview with CBC News earlier this year. “But I know that a lot of gay, bi men and trans people will still be barred by this policy, so I think it’s a bit unfortunate that the government has decided this is the approach they want to take.”
Others have taken issue with the fact that queer men who are taking HIV-prevention medications like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) will also be unable to give blood under the Canadian Blood Services rules. According to the policy, they must wait for four months after ceasing daily PrEP intake before donating.
In addition, queer donors will continue to be excluded if they have had sex with someone who is living with HIV within the past 12 months.
“The initial coverage of it was really exciting because it sounded like they were making meaningful changes to stop discriminating against gay men and other people,” Aaron Crowe, whose partner is HIV-positive, told the Toronto Star, “but when you actually looked into the way they were changing it, it seems like they’re really whitewashing the same policy.”
Nonetheless, many have hailed the new regulations as a significant step toward progress. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who promised to remove restrictions for queer blood donors during his 2015 election campaign, said the decision has been “a long time coming.”
“The current approach was discriminatory and wrong,” he said earlier this year. “This is a significant milestone for moving forward on both the safety of our blood supply, but also, non-discriminatory blood practices.”
Queer men were banned from donating blood entirely until 2013, when a lifetime ban (which was imposed during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic) was reduced to a five-year deferral following the last instance of same-sex sexual contact. The policy was amended to a one-year deferral in 2016 before the wait time was reduced yet again in 2019 to three months.
Canadian Blood Services has signalled that additional changes to its regulations could be coming. Although sex workers are currently banned from donating blood, the organization recommended to Health Canada in May to scrap the lifetime deferral to a one-year waiting period after sex work has ceased.
A spokesperson said Canadian Blood Services will keep reviewing the policies on blood donations from sex workers in the years to come.
“Right now we are looking at a year, but we will continue to look at it in future,” said Canadian Blood Services representative Catherine Lewis in comments to CTV News. “It doesn’t end if it gets reduced to one year.”
Clarification: July 19, 2022 4:12 pmThe language around what behaviours still require a three-month deferral period was updated to further clarify the new CBS policy.