By: Jennifer Chambers
As young adults, we tend to see ourselves as a pretty accepting and understanding generation – at least compared to previous ones. Watching movies such as Dallas Buyers Club or Philadelphia, we reflect on how ignorant people were back then. We are told to not only be accepting of others, but also to express who we are, to celebrate ourselves, and our differences. There are still some causes to fight for, but when your gay friends get harassed at the bar you think, “that’s just one homophobic jerk that needs to get with the times”. “The times” are reflected in our institutions and systems that no longer discriminate against gay men. But is that really the case?
Canadian Blood Services (CBS) has recently announced that blood supplies have hit a six-year low. With such a shortage you would think that any healthy and willing individual’s blood would be accepted. After lifting a 30-year ban, which prevented men who have sex with men (MSM) from giving blood, CBS still discriminates against these men by requiring that they be abstinent for five years before being allowed to give blood. This policy echoes the old prejudice that only gay men can have HIV/AIDS, when in reality anyone regardless of gender and sexual preference can be at risk of spreading the disease. Heterosexual couples practicing unsafe sex, or those deciding to get tattoos or piercings are also at risk. It is specifically discriminatory that anyone with a tattoo or piercing only has to wait for six months before they are acceptable to the CBS. If HIV antibodies can be detected by blood tests within six months of infection, then why is there a discrepancy between the two groups? Why not apply the six-month rule to MSM?
Another reason this policy is discriminatory is that it suggests all MSM individuals are likely to contract HIV/AIDS, regardless of the fact that they may be practicing safe sex or be in a monogamous relationship. These kinds of policies should be aimed at screening individuals and letting those engaged in generally low-risk practices donate much-needed blood.
Of course, in such important and potentially life-changing matters, CBS should be cautious and make sure that blood donations are safe for the receiving individuals. But the fact that individuals can have such different eligibility requirements as a result of sexual preference seems ridiculous. Instead, we should be shaping our institutions and social structures around good screening practices, so that any healthy and willing individual – regardless of their sexual identity – would be given the chance to save a life. Because, ultimately, it’s in all of us to give.