Canadian Blood Services slammed for ad on gay hookup app Grindr

Canadian Blood Services says the placement of a blood donation ad on Grindr, a gay hookup app, is the fault of its mobile advertising vendor.

Blood donation ad placed by mistake on app for sexually active gay men, agency says

Canadian Blood Services blames its mobile advertising vendor for placing the ad on Grindr. (Grindr)

Canadian Blood Services says the placement of a blood donation ad on Grindr, a gay hookup app, is the fault of its mobile advertising vendor.

In an ad that ran on Grindr across Canada, the organization encouraged men to download its GiveBlood mobile app and "put the power to give life in the palm of your hand."

But under rules that take effect Aug. 15, any gay men who have been sexually active within the last year are banned from donating blood. Health Canada reduced the ban from five years to one earlier this year.

In a written statement to CBC News, Canadian Blood Services spokesman Ross FitzGerald said the ad was placed by mistake by its mobile advertising vendor.

"We've taken steps to avoid it happening again in the future," FitzGerald said.

Canadian Blood Services would not identify the advertising company it says is at fault.

After receiving backlash online, the organization posted an apology on its website Thursday morning. 

It also apologized to users on Twitter who posted in anger about the ad.

Corey Shefman, a Winnipeg human rights lawyer who can't donate blood because of the ban, said the call for blood donations on Grindr is offensive.

"I think that [Canadian] Blood Services' decision to take out advertising in an app that's used almost entirely by gay men, [who] are prohibited from donating blood, is at best insensitive and at worst just another example of Canadian Blood Services' discriminatory treatment of gay men," Shefman said.

Shefman had first called on Canadian Blood Services to apologize for the ad Wednesday.

"If this was indeed just a mistake then they should certainly apologize for it, because it was nevertheless insensitive," he said.

'It just seems out of place'

Pride Winnipeg president Jonathan Niemczak said he was surprised to hear about the ad.

"It just seems out of place," he said.

Corey Shefman wants Canadian Blood Services to apologize for the ad it placed on Grindr, calling it 'at best insensitive.' (Pierre Verriere/CBC)

Brett Belchetz, an emergency room doctor in Toronto, questions the justification for the blood ban.

"There is no medical reason to be making these decisions, and it's doing a disservice to people out there that could use the blood," Belchetz said.

The gay blood ban dates back to the HIV/AIDS crisis of the early 1980s.

An outbreak of the infection ravaged the gay community and left public health officials panicked. Soon after the outbreak, restrictions were put in place to protect the country's blood supply from further contamination.

Today, all blood donations are screened for HIV, but Canadian Blood Services maintains it needs the one-year ban because there is a nine-day window after HIV infection of a donor that can go undetected in blood screening.

Belchetz said the one-year ban "doesn't make any sense" because doctors would use a much smaller window of time when assessing patients' eligibility to make a donation.

"The window we look at, depending on which test you're using, can be several months at the very most," he said.

'We don't have the blood products that we need'

Belchetz said donors that are at risk of contracting HIV are people with multiple sexual partners, and they can be gay or straight.

"There's no difference in that window between someone who's heterosexual or homosexual," he said.

"Where I think policy goes wrong is it doesn't tend to distinguish between people who are of any sexual orientation, [or] who are of low risk, because they are monogamous with one partner over a long period of time."

Belchetz said it's frustrating to work in an emergency room when there's a blood shortage.

"We don't have the blood products that we need."