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Blood Services to research homophobic question

The University of Manitoba students’ union passed a motion on March 6 acknowledging the questionnaire that Canadian Blood Services (CBS) uses is “homophobic and discriminatory.”

Their decision echoes previous actions that student unions across Canada have taken.

CBS spokesperson Linda McIntyre hinted that the policy banning men who have had sex with men from donating blood could change sometime this year.

“What’s neat now is that we have a timeline for the research,” McIntyre said.

Daniel Draper, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Transsexual (LGBTT) student representative on the University of Manitoba’s students’ council, said that he hoped that the motion helped to motivate CBS to begin its research into possible changes to the controversial policy.

“It would show the strength of the students’ [organizing] power…that we had an effect in this form,” he said.

With hopes of receiving grant money this summer, CBS plans to submit a preliminary report to the CBS Board of Directors in early 2009.

The CBS currently screens potential blood donors through oral and written questions that ask male donors if they have had sex with another man since 1977 and ask female donors whether they have had sex with a man who has done the latter. An affirmative answer to either question denies the applicant from donating blood.

McIntyre said that CBS continuously researches policies to reflect the best interests of Canadians.

“Any change [to a policy] needs to have scientific research to back it…. A lot of the research just hasn’t existed,” she said.

She also claimed that the current policy of males who have had sex with males (MSM) was not meant to discriminate against homosexual men.

“It could be bisexual, experimentation. Anything like that; so it’s not meant to be discriminatory,” McIntyre said.

In April 2007, CBS, along with groups like the Canadian Federation of Students and health-care professionals, gathered for a consultation regarding the MSM issue.

The consultation resulted in keeping the existing CBS policy while continuing to seek research in the area of “high-risk behaviour.”

Students’ unions across Canada have decried the policy as homophobic, and a number of them have banned CBS from their campuses in response to the policy.

The students’ unions of Carleton University, Concordia University and the University of Western Ontario have passed motions objecting to Héma-Québec and Canadian Blood Services’ policies, and the Newfoundland wing of the Canadian Federation of Students has also protested the policy.

In November 2006, SSMU Council banned Héma-Québec, the provincial blood collection agency, from holding blood drives in the Shatner buiding since the policy is inconsistent with SSMU’s constitution, which bars “discrimination on the basis of irrelevant personal characteristics, including…sexual orientation.”

CBS is scheduled to meet with the students’ unions of the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg on March 20 to further discuss the policy.