News  Queer Engineer protests discriminatory blood donation regulations

Unable to donate blood, members volunteer and bring fruit for donors

Last week, during the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) blood drive, Queer Engineer protested restrictions that keep men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating blood. The campaign was unconventional as it involved members of Queer Engineer, a group that supports queer people in science and engineering, volunteering alongside others to facilitate the running of the drive.

The campaign was initiated by Rodrigo Cubedo of Queer Engineer. Cubedo told The Daily in an email that he got the idea after he was denied the opportunity to donate blood, due to a restriction that does not allow men to donate blood if they have had sex with a man in the last five years.

“Once I looked into it, I couldn’t believe how unjust and outdated this rule [is],” wrote Cubedo. After being denied, Cubedo mobilized Queer Engineer, involving them in this issue that, in his eyes, infringes on gay rights.

Cubedo wrote that the immediate goal of Queer Engineer was to get Héma-Québec to allow its members to contribute to the blood drive. “The group brought bananas and apples to give away to donors and volunteered along with Héma-Québec, helping to distribute and finish Héma’s information pamphlets.”

According to Cubedo, this alternative method of protesting the exclusionary regulations was intended to be more collaborative with Héma-Québec, as they did not want to “aggravate the situation and bring us backward in our battle to keep our rights moving forward.”

Cubedo said that Queer Engineer will do more to campaign at the next drive in January, where it will be employing similar tactics as well as distributing ‘End the Ban’ fliers to further promote getting rid of these regulations.

Discriminatory regulations ban certain donors

Prospective blood donors must meet an exhaustive list of 31 criteria, which include drug use, possible symptoms of illness, and previous medical history; question 19 is, “Male donors: In the past five years, have you had sex with a man, even once?” Answering ‘yes’ to question 19 ends in a five-year ban from Canadian Blood Services.

In the mid-1980s following the AIDS epidemic, Canada followed the U.S. and the United Kingdom (UK), as well as many other countries, in banning MSM from donating blood. The policy was instituted with the intent of screening out donors who are supposedly more likely to have diseases.

Canadian Blood Services justifies its exclusionary regulations by claiming that the groups it targets are at greater risk of transmitting blood-borne diseases. “The criteria that Canadian Blood Services uses to determine the eligibility of blood donors are based on scientific knowledge of risk factors,” the organization’s website reads. “Screening out people at greater risk of transmitting blood-borne infections is necessary to safeguard the people who receive donated blood.”

In 2013, the Canadian Blood Services changed its policy from a lifelong ban to a five-year deferral. The UK shortened its deferral to one year back in 2011, and the ban in the U.S. remains permanent.

Héma-Québec representative Pierrette Lavergne told The Daily that the policy is likely to remain “stable.”