Blood boils over Red Cross questionnaire
By Dave Yasvinski
Recent controversy over a question on Canadian Red Cross blood donor screening surveys has forced open dialogue between Queen's University campus groups and the agency.
The question instigating the discussion asks male donors, "Have you had sex with a man, even one time since 1977?" Anyone answering "yes" to this question is eliminated as a potential donor.
Henry Dyck, history representative on the university's Graduate Student Society, said the question is discriminatory. "There is a large lesbian and gay population at Queen's who found the question offensive," he said.
The GSS passed a motion to pressure the Red Cross to change the wording of this question. However, Queen's undergraduate student union, the Alma Mater Society, rejected it.
AMS social issues commissioner Alison Quinn said the motion was most likely rejected by the undergraduate population because of a lack of confidence in the Red Cross. "I think too much weight was put on the medical statistics alone," she said.
Tim Manley of the London Red Cross said they do not feel they are discriminating against anyone. "We are trying to provide the absolute safest blood possible. We err on the side of safety of the patient," he said.
Manley said it is unfortunate gay donors must be rejected, but they are simply enforcing Health and Welfare Canada rules. "They make the rules, we carry them out. The Red Cross does not have the authority to change that question," he said.
But Alexa Duggan, president of Western's gay and lesbian club uwOUT!, said the Red Cross continues to be discriminatory. "They've always discriminated against gay men. If you are gay they don't want your blood."
Duggan said there are lots of HIV-negative gay men who are constantly being turned down to donate blood. "We have to question why [the Red Cross] are doing this. Is it for their reputation?"
Alison Wesley-James of the Red Cross said they are trying to be sensitive to the gay and lesbian community. "We have been meeting with people from Queen's, Carleton and Ottawa universities as well as Pink Triangle services a gay, lesbian and bisexual association, to discuss their concerns about the questionnaire," she said.
Wesley-James added the wording of the questionnaire is done on a national level but this does not mean it cannot be changed. "We are trying to help concerns to be expressed on a regional level to give it more of a voice on the national level."
This attitude has brought about some change as Red Cross employees are now required to undergo sensitivity training before visiting campuses.
However, Dyck is doubtful the question will ever be reworded. "I don't think the question will be changed. It is a touchy issue that is meant to deal with the fallout from the tainted blood scandal."
Major changes are unlikely since the Red Cross will soon be replaced as Canada's blood collecting agency, Dyck said. He added this should not deter people from trying to bring about change.
"We're not going to stop trying. We are basically asking them to clean up their act, I don't think there is anything wrong with that."
There is a window of opportunity to make the new agency know that they have to deal with this issue, Dyck said.