For Hossein Kia, a 21-year-old communications student at Simon Fraser University, giving blood is about making a difference in someone else’s life.
But after visiting the Canadian Blood Services’ (CBS) website to learn how, he was shocked to discover that “all men who have had sex with another man, even once, since 1977 are indefinitely deferred” from donating blood.
He voiced his frustrations in a letter to CBS’ chief executive officer, Dr Graham Sher. “While [your] statement explicitly refers to a behaviour, it also implicitly discriminates against self-identified gay men, primarily because the act of homosexual intimacy is a defining characteristic of men associated with this sexual orientation,” Kia told him.
In addition to sending his letter to Sher, Kia posted it on the web along with an online petition at www.stopdiscrimination.net. In three weeks, he has collected over 360 signatures supporting his position.
“I was very surprised because I expected mostly friends and colleagues to sign, but most of the people on [it] are people that I don’t know. I’m very thankful for whoever has supported that,” he says.
Kia admits that he has received both positive and negative responses since declaring himself on this issue. “It’s been a good ride,” he says, “because I have been exposed to a lot of different points of view. In many ways my position has become stronger even after conflicting points of view have been brought to my attention.”
When contacted at his office in Ottawa, CBS spokesperson Ron Vezina says he’s aware of Kia’s letter and petition.
“We responded to the individual and let him know about our policy and why it’s in place,” he says. Upon further questioning, Vezina concedes that, “I don’t know whether he has received [our response] yet, or if it’s in the process of being signed, but I know that I have seen a response to him.”
CBS began reviewing its policy barring men who have sex with men in 2005. It maintains that removing the ban could increase the risk of the blood supply.
Critics maintain that the policy is homophobic, barring all gay men regardless of how safely they have sex–despite the existence of precise HIV detection tests.
CBS hoped to conclude its policy review by the end of this year, but it looks like that goal will not be met.
“We’ve got an external epidemiological group looking at the risk assessments,” Vezina says. “Originally, we were hopeful that we would get a recommendation by the end of this calendar year, but it is looking now like the spring. It’s a really complex thing looking at this from many different angles.”
To date, Kia has received no response from CBS.