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LESSONS FROM MCGILL

Be prepared for the long haul
The McGill ban saw months of intense debate, legal challenges, and political maneuvering. Activists should gird for a protracted debate and plan ahead, even for the years after most have graduated.

Follow the passing buck
Activists tend to focus on the most visible elements of the controversy: blood drives and blood collection agencies. But, as Héma Québec admitted under pressure, Health Canada and patient lobby groups play a defining role in keeping the ban on donations from gay men in place. Public dialogue and debate with these groups, particularly the Canadian Hemophilia Society, will be key to progress on this issue.

Think before you ban
The ban on blood drives remains controversial at McGill, even among activists fighting to allow gay men to donate blood. Bans get blood collection agencies to pay attention, but they may also fracture the movement and disillusion otherwise sympathetic students. Support for a ban should exist before it’s imposed.

Get the facts and disseminate them
McGill activists, whether they were for or against the blood drive ban, all stressed the need to ensure the student body at large is well educated about the issue. Making people think critically about something as benevolent as a blood drive is tough slogging, and if activists choose a ban as a tactic, they should start with an intensive educational campaign. This is especially important if the ban is put to referendum.

Know your student society
The McGill student union’s constitution helped bringing the debate to the fore. Its progressive language framed the issue in terms of minority rights, provided a solid justification to take action on the blood drive issue, and ultimately got the student union behind the cause.

Think large
Groups like the CFS and Canadian AIDS Society have experience and resources, and can help orient newcomers to the debate. Remember that the issue extends beyond campus, and doesn’t end with a petition or ban on blood drives. Linking up with the larger movement can help keep things in perspective.