Blood has been something hanging over the gay community for decades — since the emergence of HIV and AIDS in Canada in the early 1980s. This long and troubling history has had major impacts on the gay community, which have left a legacy to this day.

Many gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM), along with members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, have long felt discriminated against by Canadian Blood Services’ blood donation restrictions. Over the last few decades, these restrictions have gone from a permanent blood ban to the current three-month deferral period in which male donors can’t have sex with other men.

Donor restrictions still make it difficult for gbMSM individuals to donate blood — even those who have been tested as HIV-negative, are in monogamous relationships or are not participating in high-risk sexual behaviour. 

Across Canada, researchers, activists and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community have been conducting research and studies about how Canadian Blood Services’ policies can be updated to reflect more gender-neutral policies based on risk behaviours, rather than who donors are having sex with. In 2018, Canadian Blood Services took initiative after it announced it would be helping manage 15 research projects conducted across Canada in order to review the eligibility criteria for gbMSM blood donations.

While these policies have improved, there’s still a way to go, according to several Canadians affected by and working towards change on this issue. 

Bad Blood explores the harmful history of the HIV and AIDS epidemic on the gay community, along with the thoughts and opinions of those affected by Canadian Blood Services’ donor policies. Additionally, this project explores what is being done to influence change — including one man’s legal battle with Canadian Blood Services — and the work being done by several researchers in order to provide evidence-based research to enact policy change.

Please click the image to explore the Calgary Journal’s multimedia project exploring the history of struggle and activism that has occurred regarding Canadian Blood Services’ blood donation restrictions for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM). Graphic by Riggs Zyrille Vergara

This article is an excerpt from ‘Bad Blood’, a multimedia project produced by Calgary Journal reporters which can be viewed here.