2 min

Activists optimistic about ending gay blood ban

U of Sherbrooke students petition Health Canada

In the battle to lift the ban on gay male blood donors, queer student groups haven’t landed a knockout punch, but it appears they will never accept defeat.

At a press conference at the University of Sherbrooke Jun 12, NDP candidate Cheryl Gosselin officially received a petition of more than 3,100 names, collected by the Association Gaie et Lesbienne de l’Université de Sherbrooke (AGLEBUS).

The petition has already been submitted to Health Canada.

The student group held the press conference to mark World Blood Donor Day on June 14, and presented the petition to bring attention to the frustrating fact that despite endless queer activism for decades, the Canadian government still has not budged on lifting the ban.

“We don’t feel that there is any logical reason why gay men should be excluded from donating blood,” says Mathieu Courchesne, vice president of communications for AGLEBUS.

“We know that things aren’t going to change tomorrow, or probably even in a few years from now, but I know that someday they will — if we keep trying.”

Matthew McLauchlin, co-president of the NDP-Quebec LGBTT Commisson says that there is no reason why the blood ban — which applies to men who had gay sex even once since 1977, and their female partners — should still be in place.

“More and more scientists are finding that a blanket ban on things like blood or organs is really unscientific, and is basically coming down to a matter of science versus prejudice,” says McLauchlin.

AGLEBUS’ petition contains the signatures of several doctors, including Mark Wainberg, director of the McGill AIDS Centre, and Réjean Hébert, dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Sherbrooke.

University students have taken leading roles in fighting the blood donor ban — and a similar ban that limits the ability of gay men to give organs. In 2006, McGill students banned Héma Québec from conducting drives in their student centre until the gay blood ban is lifted.

Organ donor rules prohibit sexually active gay men from donating organs for five years, other than by exceptional distribution rules. Since the rules were released in Dec 2007, groups at Carleton University in Ottawa and the University of Western Ontario in London have been holding demonstrations and petitioning the government to reverse the rules.

“Just by collecting signatures and talking with people on the street, we feel as though we are already making a difference,” says Courchesne. “We already have support from the NDP, too, now all we need from the rest of the politicians is guts.”

The ban will be reversed, as long as students continue to circulate petitions and information and doctors continue to support students’ efforts, says McLauchlin.

“Many doctors had very strong views about the organ ban, and refused to obey it, so we are hoping that more vigorous responses from the medical community continue,” says McLauchlin.

“We need a loud clear voice to let people know that these [bans] are based on old science, and need to be replaced with new understanding.”