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Canadian Blood Services invites gays to speak about blood ban

Roundtable set for April, while two court cases wind their way through court

WE'LL TALK, IF YOU'LL LISTEN. Interim Egale director Kaj Hasselriis speaks about CBS's decision to hear from gays about the blood ban. Credit: (Capital Xtra file photo)

The director of Egale Canada tells the story of a friend of his: a woman who as a teenager had sex with a bisexual male friend only to learn later that she was ineligible to donate blood in Canada — indefinitely. She was heartbroken.

“It just points out the absurdity of the question,” says Kaj Hasselriis, the interim executive director of Egale. If everyone who’s had sex with a gay or bi man knew it, the pool of potential donors would be a lot smaller than people realize, he says.

In 1983, the Red Cross, who administrated blood donation before Canadian Blood Services (CBS), began screening out men who’d had sex with men and their sexual partners as potential blood donors. It’s long been a bone of contention for gay men. Now, two challenges are winding their way through the court: one against CBS by Kyle Freeman and one against Héma Québec, CBS’s provincial counterpart in Quebec, filed by Montreal law student Adrian Lomaga.

Next month, after a 25-year feud, Canadian Blood Services and the gay community will sit down to talk. After promising to review the policy last April, the federal agency has invited Egale to speak at a roundtable on the subject Apr 16. Other groups, including the Canadian AIDS Society and the Canadian Federation Of Students will also participate, says Lorna Tessier, director of public relations at CBS.

“Health Canada is a department of the government of Canada. Right now, it’s the government that’s discriminating against gay and bisexual men,? says Hasselriis.

“If this sort of discrimination can be allowed, then other kinds are allowed.”

Tessier says that Canadian Blood Services “lives and breathes openness and transparency” — a policy they adopted in the wake of the tainted blood scandal. Canadian Blood Services is continually reviewing their policies, she says, and that’s why the ban on donations from men who have sex with men (MSMs) is up for discussion.

It’s not clear how seriously Egale?s position will be taken — or whether the MSM prohibition will be struck as a result.

After the Apr 16 roundtable, the views of the participants will be summed up and presented CBS’s 13-member board of directors, which includes Tom Warner, who is also involved with The Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario (CLGRO).

Another report will be compiled by their National Liaison Committee, a group of 21 “stakeholders” including healthcare professionals, patient groups and regional representatives. Both reports will likely be available to CBS’s board of directors in May; from there, the board will be free to make a decision on the policy.

Even if the Canadian Blood Services board agrees that the gay blood ban should end, it can only make a recommendation to Health Canada, where the final decision is made.

Representatives from Health Canada were not immediately available to explain how that decision would be reached.