Gay man celebrates anniversary of blood donation rule change by rolling up his sleeve

William Reimer donated blood on Saturday to celebrate the first anniversary of Canadian Blood Services changing the rules for men who have sex with men.

Abstinence requirement down to 1 year from 5

William Reimer donated blood for the first time in eight years to celebrate the first anniversary of Canadian Blood Services changing it's criteria for gay men. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

A gay Winnipeg man donated blood on Saturday for the first time in eight years.

Men who have sex with men used to be barred from donating blood. But Canadian Blood Services has relaxed the rules in recent years, allowing men who abstain from having sex with other men to donate after a certain period. Last summer, the ineligibility period for men who have sex with men was reduced to one year from five. 

Nearly 365 days after that rule change, William Reimer is once again eligible to donate blood. 

"I have reached that milestone, I guess," Reimer quipped about reaching the one-year abstinence requirement. "And I am here to celebrate that change, celebrate the fact that I can finally donate again."

He said 15 of his friends are also donating blood. A second group will go to Canadian Blood Services on Tuesday, which is the official one year anniversary of the rule change.

Reimer said while growing up his family always donated and he donated a few times before he came out as gay.

"It didn't really hit me until a couple years ago when I had to take [my Opa] for chemo," he recalled. 'We had, it turns out, the same blood type, and that blood type was really low and not in high stock here at Blood Services."

Reimer said it upset him that he wasn't able to donate and help his grandfather. 

"I know there has been a lot of stigma around homosexuality and gay men, in particular with the whole AIDS epidemic back in the '80s," he said. "HIV is more prominent among younger women than it is in the gay community, because it is not a gay disease, it is an everyone disease."

Canadian Blood Services would not comment on the policy or on Reimer's donation celebration.

On its website, Canadian Blood Services said it's working with LGBT groups to create a long-term solution. It said one possibility is a behaviour-based screening criteria.

When the eligibility period was changed last year, critics called the one-year abstinence period homophobic and unreasonable.

Reimer said he plans on donating again after the 56-day wait period — that is, if he remains abstinent.