Frequently asked questions: 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and Canada’s Lifeline

At Canadian Blood Services, advancing 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion and strengthening relationships with 2SLGBTQIA+ communities is central to our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and Indigenization.

Pride Month is an important opportunity to celebrate the incredible contributions that 2SLGBTQIA+ employees, donors, registrants, partners, volunteers and stakeholders have made – and continue to make – to Canada’s Lifeline. It is also a time of reflection and gratitude, for the tireless advocacy of 2SLGBTQIA+ people and communities who have helped to drive forward necessary progress within our broader society, as well as within Canadian Blood Services.

Canadian Blood Services is committed to ensuring equitable participation in Canada’s Lifeline and we want to be clear in our support for 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and their unequivocal human rights. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about blood donation and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

If you have further questions, or if you’d like to share your perspective on this important topic, please email us at feedback@blood.ca.

Evolving eligibility criteria for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men

Why is Canadian Blood Services sharing 2SLGBTQIA+ content?

At Canadian Blood Services, advancing 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion and strengthening relationships with 2SLGBTQIA+ communities is central to our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Some people may feel we are being insincere or disingenuous by recognizing and celebrating Pride Month while barriers to donation and participation still exist for some 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. We are committed to ensuring equitable participation in Canada’s Lifeline, and we want to be clear in our support for 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and their unequivocal human rights.

During Pride Month, it is important for us to celebrate the incredible contributions that 2SLGBTQIA+ employees, donors, registrants, volunteers, partners and stakeholders have made – and continue to make – to Canada’s Lifeline. We also recognize the tireless advocacy of 2SLGBTQIA+ people and communities who have helped to drive forward necessary progress.

Canadian Blood Services is dedicated to fundamentally strengthening its relationship with 2SLGBTQIA+ communities through strategic and robust diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Moving forward, our organization is seeking to further become a champion of 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion and a stronger ally and advocate to 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

What is the latest update on Canadian Blood Services’ journey to move towards sexual behaviour-based screening for all donors?

On April 28, 2022, Health Canada has approved our request to remove eligibility criteria specific to men who have sex with men and instead focus on sexual behaviour associated with higher risk among all donors. When implemented later this year, this change will bring an end to men being asked during the pre-donation screening process if they’ve had sex with another man.

We will spend the coming months preparing to implement the new criteria in all donor centres across the country. This will include making necessary updates to our screening software and rolling out training for employees about the new criteria and how to engage in sex-positive conversations with donors.  We expect to have the changes implemented no later than September 30, 2022.

For more information about Canadian Blood Services’ evolving eligibility criteria for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, visit blood.ca.

Why did it take so long to make this change?

We know that the slow pace of changes to donor criteria that have excluded many gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men has been painful and frustrating for many. It has taken time to collect the evidence needed to apply to our regulator Health Canada to make changes to these criteria.

In Canada, blood donor eligibility criteria are developed within a strict, evidence-informed regulatory framework that focuses on patient safety. 

Health Canada alone has the authority to approve changes to donor selection criteria that impact human safety or the safety of blood. For Canadian Blood Services to apply to make a change, we needed to be able to provide evidence that the proposed change would not compromise patient safety.

As a blood operator, Canadian Blood Services is responsible for gathering sufficient evidence to make a request for change to Health Canada. Our changes are informed by the available science and the frequency and pattern of health events in a population (epidemiology).

To make this change to gender-neutral sexual behaviour-based screening for all donors, we needed to have a bedrock of evidence in support of new criteria. The MSM Research Program, findings from the international research community, epidemiological data and our own extensive modelling informed our submission to make this change.

Why will it take until September to implement the new criteria?

It takes time to implement any eligibility change, and this is a significant one affecting all current and future donors.

We will spend the next several months updating our systems and processes, as well as training staff on the new criteria and how to have sex-positive conversations.

We look forward to implementing the criteria no later than Sept. 30, 2022.

What about trans individuals?

Currently, trans donors are asked risk questions based on their anatomical sex (genitalia) at the time of donation. Donors who have not had lower gender affirming surgery are screened using questions based on their sex assigned at birth and are eligible to donate or are deferred based on these criteria. Donors who have had lower gender affirming surgery are deferred from donating blood for three months after their surgery. After the three months, donors will be screened using questions based on their affirmed gender.

When the new criteria are implemented by Sept. 30, 2022, trans donors will no longer be asked whether they’ve had lower genital gender-affirming surgery.

Trans donors will also be able to register in their gender. Due to limitations of the binary registration computer software system, non-binary donors will still need to register in a binary gender.

We are working on changes to our processes in consultation with trans and non-binary community members as well as the registration software owner to improve this registration and screening process. 

What is Canadian Blood Services doing to become a more diverse, inclusive and equitable organization?

Advancing organizational diversity, equity and inclusion is important to us. We have undertaken and implemented many strategic initiatives to date, including:

  • Hiring of a chief diversity officer and staffing of a dedicated DEI team
  • Formation of a DEI Council tasked with developing an organizational DEI strategy and action plan.
  • Comprehensive commitments to 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion, including in-depth training and education for employees on topics including allyship, sex-positive conversations, respectful pronoun use, trans and gender diverse inclusion, and more.
  • Establishment of several employee resource groups (including one for 2SLGBTQIA+ employees) to provide psychologically safe spaces for staff who share common identities.
  • Working with a leading 2SLGBTQIA+ owned and operated consultancy firm to develop a new strategy to engage diverse community stakeholders as we prepare to welcome new eligible donors. This work has involved broad consultations with pride organizations, queer, trans, two-spirit, HIV/AIDS and allied groups, as well as Canadian Blood Services’ 2SLGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group. We are now moving forward to implement all elements of the strategy.
  • Undertaking work to make the donor experience more inclusive for trans and non-binary donors. This includes working with our software vendor to incorporate new functionality supporting donors’ ability to register their gender in addition to the sex assigned to them at birth.
  • Developing equity-driven talent acquisition practices, policies and procedures that are culminating in an inclusive hiring strategy..

We will continue to listen and learn from 2SLGBTQIA+ employees, donors, stakeholders and others about how we can co-create more positive and inclusive experiences and spaces at Canadian Blood Services for 2SLGBTQIA+ and other equity-deserving communities.

If you wish to share your perspective on this with us on this, we would welcome your feedback and engagement. Please email us at feedback@blood.ca.

Fostering an atmosphere of acceptance


This Pride Month, analyst Aiden Beattie reflects on a decade of changes at Canadian Blood Services

Laying the groundwork for a more inclusive blood system


Dr. Catherine Jenkins, scientist and LGBTQ+ advocate, is part of our effort to evolve donor screening

‘I’m not by myself here’


This Pride Month, manager Amy Gow reflects on our employee resources for LGBTQ+ employees.