Wednesday February 04, 2015

A 180 on blood donation policy

Listen 7:47

Chad Walters grew up wanting to give blood. It was a milestone, like getting your driver's license, or graduating high school. So when he found he couldn't, he was mad. He felt discriminated against, as a gay man, because Canadian Blood Services (CBS) didn't accept donations from men who have sex with men (MSM). He even wrote an editorial about it.

And then he did a 180. 

After seeing his editorial, CBS contacted Walters. They asked him to join a focus group, and suggested he give blood to its research program. Since his blood wouldn't be used for transfusions, CBS didn't have the HIV/AIDS worries that are behind the MSM policies. Walters decided that helping with research was still helping, and through his work with the focus groups, he helped CBS change its MSM policy. A man can now donate blood as long as it has been 5 years since he last had sex with another man. 

But for many in Walters' community, that's not enough. LGBT rights group Egale Canada has said: "Any identity-based deferral is fundamentally opposed to the Canadian values of equality and non-discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity...It's time to acknowledge that a person's identity doesn't put them at any greater risk for a sexually transmitted disease, rather, it is their behaviour that determines their risk." 

Walters says he was sick of hearing people say things like "they won't take my blood because I'm gay." So he worked with CBS to organize the "Rainbow Donor Clinic"–a chance for other men to donate to research, and to talk to CBS representatives about his concerns. 

He admits that he wants the policy to change too, but he's confident it will–and the meantime he'll help out any way he can.