'Science not stereotypes'

Standing Against Queer Discrimination march to Health Canada to protest MSM policies

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Marching down Richmond Street

Jon Purdy

TAKING TO THE STREETS. Members of Standing Against Queer Discrimination (SAQD) marched down Richmond Street last Thursday to protest Canadian Blood Services' men who have had sex with men policy and Health Canada's policy on organ donation.

Draped in rainbow flags, carrying organ-shaped signs and chanting “Science not stereotypes,” protesters marched through the London core last Thursday to oppose Canadian Blood Services and Health Canada’s policies preventing gay men from donating blood and organs.

Nearly 30 protesters gathered in Victoria Park before marching to the Health Canada office on York St. in a demonstration organized by Standing Against Queer Discrimination.

Craig Ashbourne, director of communications SAQD, explained the intent of the protest: “We’re hoping that the health minister is going to listen to us ... [the policies] need to target behaviours, not groups of people.”

These policies include the CBS donor ban on men who have had sex with men since 1977. Health Canada also banned sexually active gay men from donating organs in December " a development Ashbourne found frustrating.

“On one hand, we were told by CBS, on behalf of Health Canada ... that they were looking at changing the policy and doing research, and now they’ve brought the same policy in on organs completely in secret,” Ashbourne said.

The protesters were vocal on their journey to York St., with Ashbourne and Joshua Ferguson, director of SAQD, leading various chants through a megaphone. The crowd held up traffic as it marched down the centre of Dundas Street, tailed by reporters from various media outlets.

Reactions to the display were mixed, ranging from several honks of support from passing cars to some puzzled onlookers.

Upon arriving at the Health Canada office, the protestors were met with support from Irene Mathyssen, New Democratic Party MP for London-Fanshawe.

“In an age where we do not tolerate racism, ageism, sexism ... why would we ever tolerate discrimination?” Mathyssen asked.

“Discrimination has no place in Canadian society and no place in the government of Canada,” she continued, amid cheers from the crowd.

Cindy Graham, a communications manager for CBS, agreed pressuring Health Canada should be the focus, as it also determines CBS’ criteria for donating.

However, she stressed protests can tie up CBS’ limited resources.

“We would prefer students interested in change work with us,” Graham said. “We want to engage scientists and other researchers to look at this question. We are looking forward ... to behaviour-based questions.”

Ferguson felt the protest was very successful in demonstrating opposition to the policies.

“[The policies are] not based on science or statistical analysis,” Ferguson said.

“I think it’s more important than ever to continue with our fight.”

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