Manitoba

Manitoba Liberals call for end to legislative assembly blood drives that ban gay men

The Manitoba Liberals are urging the legislative assembly to stop organizing blood drives which they say are discriminatory against members of the LGBTQ community. 

Discrimination against LGBTQ donors doesn't belong in workplace representative of Manitoba, staffer says

Canadian Blood Services doesn't take donations from men who have sex with men within the past three months. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

The Manitoba Liberals are urging the legislative assembly to stop organizing blood drives which they say are discriminatory against members of the LGBTQ community. 

Staff and MLAs in the party's caucus say they find the practice archaic, since it bans donations from men who have been sexually active with a man within the past three months, and transgender women who have been sexually active with a man within the last year. 

Craig Larkins, director of communications for the caucus, says the ban is hurtful.

"We see the legislature as a public building. It's supposed to be a welcoming place. We legislate. We stand up for Manitobans. We fight the good fight out of that building," said Larkins, who identifies as gay. 

"There's three gay men, particularly, in the [Liberal] caucus, and to walk into your place of work every day and see a sign that says, 'We need blood donors,' and we want you to donate, but you can't," he said. "It stings."

After making his case, Larkins said his party's caucus agrees that a bus shouldn't pick up government employees for a blood drive he considers discriminatory.

Liberal caucus communications director Craig Larkins, left, shown with his partner Chris Dalgarno, says the ban on blood donations from gay men is hurtful. (Craig Larkins/Supplied)

A bus arrived at the legislature this week, and three more dates are scheduled this year. 

Leader Dougald Lamont wrote a letter to the clerk of the executive council to urge an end to the government's involvement.

"That building is a representation of our province," he said. "If you're singling out people who can't participate in a certain event or a blood drive, that's not really representing Manitoba."

Canadian Blood Services has gradually reduced the amount of time that gay and bisexual men must abstain from sex in order to donate.

Deferral period

The deferral period, which used to last decades, was reduced from five years to a one-year ban in 2016. It will be brought down to three months beginning in June.

The organization restricts men who have sex with men since they account for the largest proportion of new HIV infections in Canada, CBS says on its website, but they're supporting research studies that study the length of the deferral period.

Larkins said an incremental relaxing of the rules isn't enough. He wants it to be eliminated.

"All blood is tested at the end of the day," he said. "To me, it sounds like stigma over science."

Larkins said the blood drive is organized by the legislative assembly. He flagged the issue after the last bus ride in 2018 and says government staff was unaware of the restriction affecting LGBTQ employees.

A provincial spokesperson said Friday it did not know who was organizing the blood drive, and it wouldn't be appropriate to comment without additional details.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

now