When they were in opposition, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals made so many promises. They promised to do politics differently. They promised to protect the environment. They promised the LGBTQ2+ community they would end to discrimination faced by lesbians, bisexual, transgender, and gay Canadians.
While Justin Trudeau and the Liberals campaigned intensively on sexual orientation and gender identity, they told us they would remove the stigmatizing policy at Blood Services that bans blood donations by transgender women and gay men. Justin Trudeau promised to decriminalize HIV/AIDS.
The liberals did deliver on some of their promises such as Jody Wilson-Raybould adding gender identity or expression to Canada’s human rights act to match existing legislation in place in all our provinces at the time, but the Liberal government left too many important issues unaddressed considering all their promises.
The blood ban is a hurtful example of what could have been, save for the lack of will. In 2016, then-newly-minted Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould picked up on years of work done by NDP MPs Bill Siksay and Randall Garrison and enacted legislation protecting Canadians from discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression, enacting bill C-16.
I will forever be grateful to Wilson-Raybould and her team for her work that gave transgender and gender-diverse persons in Canada. This was a major win for Canadians facing discrimination because of our gender identity or expression, and I thank then-Minister Wilson-Raybould and for making sure this bill got to the end. I was that much more grateful to be recognized for this advocacy work with the Meritorious Service Medal in 2018 – awarded to Canadians for bringing honour to our country.
The Trudeau government did also apologize for Canada’s throwing queers under the bus in the purge of gays and lesbians from public institutions and the armed forces last century. An apology is always nice, but too many opportunities to treat the LGBTQ2+ community equally were missed by the Liberal government, and that’s a shame considering their promises.
A number of files including the Blood Ban, the Sperm ban, the HIV criminalization, expungement and criminal records, the deportation of LGBTQ2 refugees, refusing to facilitate PrEP access, the reported blocking of transgender women UNHCR refugees, and Conversion Therapy have shown almost no movement. So much for promises.
In fact, a bill criminalizing the advertising or providing Conversion Therapy was finally put forward by the Senate of Canada when it was too late to implement in this parliament, an unusual step sometimes used to circumvent a stalling government.
The awful hypocrisy that the stigmatizing blood ban represents to gay men and transgender women in Canada could easily have been addressed but was left to fester.
In its 2016 press announcement that it was easing limits on donated blood, Canada Blood Services noted that
“This year alone, about 100,000 new blood donors are needed to support the national blood supply…”Canada Blood Services Information Release
The continued ban is seen as an insult by many in the LGBTQ2+ community. Devoid of scientific justification and rejected by the WHO as baseless years ago, the ban reminds many of the public perceptions that our blood is somehow less clean than everyone else’s.
In 2019, Why are natal women engaging in anal sex in a monogamous relationships considered too safe to even intrude, whereas men or transgender women who engage in the same conduct deemed at such high risk of blood-born illness that their blood is rejected out of hand?
A prohibition of an entire demographic from donating blood on the fear they MIGHT be infected because they happen to be gay men or transgender women despite the fact that everyone else engaged in the same practices (anal sex and oral sex) are invited to donate their much-needed blood, is a reminder of the stigma against the LGBTQ2+ community.
During the 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau promised to end the blood ban as part of his progressive election platform, with the support and help of Vancouver-Centre MP Dr. Hedy Fry.
“The current situation discriminates automatically against men who have sex with men”Dr. Hedy Fry, Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre in 2015, ignoring its impact on transgender women.
Today, our federal government allows Canada Blood Services to accept blood donations from cisgender women who participate in anal sex without screening for this practice. Canada Blood Services balks at asking cisgender women if they participate in anal sex because they know it is none of their business, is off-putting, and risks affecting blood donation levels.
In contrast, under the Liberal government, Canada Blood Services continues to reject gay men or transgender women out of hand on the suspicion they MIGHT have HIV regardless of testing history or sexual history, ON THE SOLE BASIS THAT THEY ARE MEMBERS OF THE LGBTQ2+ community and on no other grounds such as behaviour or geographic prohibitions.
Adding insult to injury, Canada Blood Services tells transgender people they are being “handled” based on their birth sex rather than based on their gender. Calling transgender women men, and transgender men, women, is awful and needlessly mean.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government knows better, and the Trudeau government decided not to make it better.
The lack of real action is unconscionable.
When I consider what promises were made, and when I remember that the long-serving MP representing Vancouver Centre is Hedy Fry – a medical doctor who has prominently championed LGBTQ2+ rights while the Liberals were opposition – I find this lack of action exceedingly insensitive.
“Health Canada has approved our request to reduce the blood donation waiting period for men who have sex with men from five years to one year. The change took effect across the country”.Canada Blood Services, 15 August 2016
A simple google search shows that since the Liberals formed government Dr. Fry stopped speaking to the press about the blood ban.
If there is a ban needed based on a known medical or epidemiological concern, it should apply to everyone who poses a risk on the basis of the activities that bring this risk.
It is a donor participating in specific activities that brings risk to our blood supply. If that activity is deemed high-risk, then everyone engaging in it should be treated the same way regardless of who they are.
Our government agencies should not knowingly participate in stigmatizing communities by misrepresenting risk as if it was demographic rather than activity-based concern, and Hedy Fry and the Liberals know this.
“[T]he blood donation eligibility criteria for men who have sex with men was been reduced from one year to three months across Canada”– Canada Blood Services – June 3, 2019
Canada Blood Services Tells us it has the technology and the means to ensure our blood supply is safe. They should not participate in a pass-the-buck circle with the Liberal government and Public Health Canada to avoid changing policy that lifts people up and end a hurtful practice.
A recent Daily Xtra article outlines the other ways the LGBTQ2+ community has been let down by the Liberal government who had made so many promises at election time.
In 2016, I started working for changes of the discriminatory anti-gay and anti-transgender policies the Trudeau government allowed Canada Blood Services to enshrine in the new blood-donor qualifications.
At the time, gay men and transgender women were barred from donating blood for one year after any sexual relations. Working within the transgender community and with gay men also concerned by this let-down, we pushed Canada Blood Services to do better.
In late 2016, Canada Blood Services agreed to engage in a series of community consultation with the transgender community, one of which took place in a Vancouver-Centre hotel, with dozens of participants. Thanks to a series of follow-through meetings with Canada Blood Services in Vancouver and Ottawa, we succeeded in getting the blood ban reduced from a 1-year ban to a 3-month ban for anyone who has sex with men who is not a cisgender woman. We also pressured Canada Blood Services to change how it talks to transgender persons. Still, gay men and transgender women who have not had transsexual surgery who are in monogamous sexual relationships remain disqualified from giving blood by Canada Blood Services because of a lack of will to force them to allow it – despite all other women never even being asked if the participate anal sex, the practice considered to put us at risk of blood-borne illnesses like Hepatitis – C and HIV.
“Donors who were born in or lived in some African countries (Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Niger, and Nigeria) are now eligible to donate blood. HIV testing performed on blood donors can now detect HIV strains found in these countries”Canada Blood Services, 22 July, 2016
No medical reason for the ban
I am also told that all blood products administered in Canada are tested for transmittable diseases. I am also told that donated blood is, in fact, tested systematically.
I am told there is no shortcoming today preventing Canada Blood Services from doing what the Trudeau Liberal government decided not to prioritize.
I am told that the reason for the blood ban persists is not medical or technological but political. I am told the Liberal government stalled on addressing this and that they could easily have delivered on this promise, except for a lack of free will.
If community advocates across the country had not joined together in outrage in 2016, we would still be living with a one-year ban, the edge of the comfort zone of our Liberal government.
I am told all these things, and I am disappointed in Justin Trudean and Hedy Fry.
One of the reasons I chose to join the NDP and not the Green Party was that I believe in living up to commitments like election platforms.
When I ran in 2017 for the BC NDP, I signed up to our campaign platform. We made 122 promises and I am proud to say the NDP Government in British Columbia had delivered on by far most of them these within 1 year and is well on the way to delivering on all of them.
When Justin Trudeau and Hedy Fry told us they would do things differently, I expected them to mean it. I expect political parties to live up to the promises they make, and don’t think parties who let us down should get a second chance.
I have a question
My experience as an advocate and as an organizer on the blood ban leaves me with one question I would like Hedy Fry and Justin Trudeau to answer.
My question is:
Given that the Canadian medical system claims to detect HIV in our donated blood supply with a high level of confidence, and given that Canada Blood Services tests all donated blood systematically for blood-borne pathogens and illnesses, what medical or technological barrier exists that stopped the Trudeau Liberal government from delivering on its 2015 election promise to the LGBTQ2+ community to end this hurtful and damaging rejection of the life-saving gift of gay or transgender blood, considering that people who lived in or visited high-risk countries notorious for blood-borne pathogens are exempt from this very refusal today?