Monday, June 20, 2016

New Health Canada rules for gay men donating blood welcome, but still fundamentally flawed

Health Minister Jane Philpott (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
The long-standing rules barring men who have sex with men from donating blood in Canada are no longer valid.  They haven't been based on serious science for years.

The old rule enacted in the 1980s after the tainted blood scandal barred all men who have had sex with men even once since 1977 from donating blood for life.  I was well aware of this rule before I came out.  Thus I donated much blood before I became sexually active.

At first, it didn't seem to me like Health Canada or Canadian Blood Services were picking on just gay men as they used a similar sledgehammer approach to banning thousands of other Canadians for the smallest of reasons, like for a time those who had eaten certain meat products in the U.K.

But in recent years, it's become clear that science had less to do with the rule barring gay men.  Rather, the rule was kept in place simply to calm paranoid or prejudiced Canadians worried about the blood supply and maintain the "perception" that the blood supply was super-safe.   

Health Canada, wary to make the same mistakes of the past, stubbornly refused to budge on the issue until recently, when it changed the lifetime ban to a 5-year no sex ban.   Meaning gay men had to abstain from sex for five long years before becoming eligible to donate blood.  

Today, the rule has been changed again, bringing Canada in line with many other countries, lowering the sex threshold to just one year for gay men.  But for many, that's still going to disallow most gay men from donating, including those who are probably the least susceptible to getting sexually transmitted diseases or HIV: monogamous gay couples.

So there is more work to be done on this file.  If the Trudeau Liberals are intent on ensuring evidence-based policy decisions, it seems clear they should keep their promise to end the blanket ban completely and instead target actual behaviour.

Yes, the rates of HIV infection and other STDs are higher amongst sexually active gay men who aren't in monogamous relationships.  But the risks of similar infections amongst sexually active straight people (for whom, let's face it, condom use still remains less than common) have got to be higher than monogamous gay couples or gay men who always practise safe sex.   

It's time to stop targeting gay men unfairly like this.  Today's announcement is a step in the right direction.  Let's hope it's just the beginning of the end for this discriminatory policy.  

Sunday, June 12, 2016

50 tragic steps back in Orlando, 1000 steps forward in Kyiv

Today's Gay Pride parade in Kyiv (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
I'm numb with the tragic news coming out of Orlando last night.  According to reports, a lone gunman, in an act of vile hatred, last night around 2 am open-fired inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring dozens more before U.S. police shot him dead. 

In 2014, I visited Orlando with my partner Sam and attended a different gay nightclub called Parliament House one evening.  (I had to re-check the name today after hearing this horrific story.) 

Just last night, I went out myself with another friend here in Toronto to another gay nightclub.  This tragedy hits very close to the bone for me as I could easily imagine myself in such a place at 2 am.

Investigations into this horrible act of terror continue in the U.S.  There are reports the gunman was sympathetic to the evils of extremist religion.

I can only say that we should not take this tragedy and use it to gain political points or to marginalize or stigmatize religious moderates, be they Muslim or Christian or any religion.

On the other hand, those who promote hatred and violence, including those who do it in the name of their extremist religions, have blood on their hands today.

So too do those who fight for the easy distribution of assault rifles in the U.S.  The gunman last night reportedly used one, hence why the casualties of innocent people inside the Pulse nightclub were so high. 

As we struggle to comprehend this horrible action, let's celebrate the way the Orlando community and indeed all decent people of all sexual orientations might come together to mourn and move forward.

And let's ignore the conservative scumbags who will use this incident to whip up hatred against all Muslims, demand the greater distribution of guns and a complete shutdown of allowing Muslims into the U.S. (as no doubt Donald Trump will repeat, proving once again he's not a leader.)

Meanwhile, this story about Kyiv's Gay Pride march today gives me hope.

"Around a thousand people turned up on Sunday for Ukraine’s first major gay pride march which was held amid tight security measures..." 

Kudos to those brave activists and community members who are asserting their value as human beings amid a vile conservative culture. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Federal Conservatives freaking out over today's Liberal-NDP-Green cooperation on electoral reform

After mostly botching the launch of their democratic reform committee earlier this month when they originally stacked it with a majority of Liberals, the federal government has fixed it considerably today with this move.

Now, the Liberals will hold only 5 seats on a committee of 12, handing the opposition a majority of votes on the committee that will study and make a recommendation on a possible change to our voting system.

I wrote when the committee was launched that moving unilaterally to change the system, perhaps to a ranked ballot (as seemed the case based on the Liberals' actions), would be a huge error by the Trudeau government.  Such a process would be tainted and threaten to de-legitimize any possible change.

But by agreeing to add one NDP MP to the committee, plus give Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and one Bloc MP voting rights, it seems the federal Liberals have fixed the process and put this issue back on track.  The NDP and Greens seem quite happy.   

But Conservative Scott Reid seems to have blown a gasket.   As we know, any kind of change away from First-Past-The-Post would hurt narrow Conservative partisan interests as ranked ballots would force all parties to appeal outside of their grass roots base, while proportional representation would make it impossible for Conservatives to impose their will on the country with only 39% of the vote.  

Reid calls today's compromise a "backroom deal" which has left him "mighty ticked off."

Conservatives remain desperate for a referendum to scuttle any possible change.  They love the current system as is because it hands them 100% of the power with as little as 39% of the vote.

Reid strangely calls today's move to change the make-up of the committee to closely match the popular vote in the 2015 election "wildly undemocratic."  Reid also claims any change the prime minister favours "will be unconstitutional."

Can you say 'hyperbole'?  Can you say 'bullshit'?   That's all the Conservatives' Reid is offering today on the issue.

While the initial launch of this process seemed flawed, dooming the whole process perhaps to failure, today's move actually saves the process.   By opening up the process to give more say to the NDP, the Greens and the Bloc, the Liberals have won a huge amount of legitimacy.

Furthermore, the chances of making a change to proportional representation have just gone up.

If the Liberals come to an agreement with the NDP and Greens on a new system, the government will have great latitude to implement it without an expensive referendum.   Perhaps the Liberals and the NDP could agree to hold a referendum after one or two terms under the new system.

It still remains uncertain where this process will lead us and how serious the Liberals are about changing the system.   But today's news is good news for those who favour dumping Canada's antiquated voting system.