When Jake Chevrier became eligible to resume donating blood, he celebrated with an appointment where his partner did the blood draw.
Tanner Tuplin’s hand trembled ever so slightly as he drew the needle close to the donor’s arm. He had drawn blood thousands of times before, but this time was special.
Today the donor was his own partner, Jake Chevrier, who was giving blood for the first time in years. He’d donated as a teenager but became ineligible after coming out as gay in college.
“When that transition happened, I was like oh, now I can’t donate blood. But I could earlier. I had a hard time wrapping my head around why and what had changed,” reflects Jake.
The reason Jake was no longer able to donate was a policy implemented when the science and testing on HIV and HIV transmission was in its infancy. This caused Canadian Blood Services (and other blood system operators) to rely heavily on screening criteria to protect patient safety. For decades this meant many gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, and many trans women, were not eligible to donate blood.
Jake understood the history of the policy, but it still hurt to be excluded — especially when he heard about patients in need. He vividly recalls the day in June 2016 when a gunman killed 49 people and injured at least 50 more at the Pulse nightclub, a popular venue for the gay community in Orlando, Florida. A group of his friends wanted to donate blood in honour of the victims. He had to tell them that wasn’t possible.
“I felt so helpless in that moment, being in a position where I didn't feel like I could do anything,” Jake said. “I didn't have any money. I couldn't volunteer hours because it's in the States and I'm in school. The one thing I could have done would have been to donate blood. And I couldn’t do that.”
Sexual behaviour-based screening comes to Canadian Blood Services
Today, all donors, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, are now asked if they’ve had new and/or multiple sexual partners in the last three months. If they answer yes to either, they are then asked if they’ve had anal sex with any of these partners. If they have, they will be required to wait three months from when they last had anal sex to donate. If they have not, and if they meet all other eligibility criteria, they will be able to donate blood or plasma (a component of blood).
As an employee of Canadian Blood Services, Tanner had been following the incremental progress toward this change. When he first joined the organization as a donor service representative in 2016, gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men couldn’t donate blood for five years after their last sexual contact. But as Canadian Blood Services gathered evidence based on research in Canada and around the world, Health Canada began to approve several reductions in that waiting period.
“I watched that go down to one year, and I thought, ‘Okay, we're getting somewhere.’ Then it went down to six months, and then to three months,” Tanner recalls. “I thought, ‘Whoa, this is really going to happen.’
“I was so excited for the opportunity to get to see myself in our donors, get to recognize and feel like my community is now part of the work that I get to do. Because I know people in our community want to give.”
As science and testing technology continued to evolve, Canadian Blood Services was able to gather the evidence required by Health Canada to shift to screening all donors based on sexual behaviours, not sexual orientation. This approach to donor screening took effect in September 2022, and is what made Jake’s return to donating blood possible.
Tough conversations during the wait to donate blood
But the wait wasn’t easy. In Tanner’s early days with Canadian Blood Services, he was living in the heart of Toronto’s gay village. He heard the anger and frustration at the policy which prevented many in his community from donation blood. As he struggled to reconcile those views with his commitment to Canada’s Lifeline, he set out to learn more.
“I had to be aware of why the rules were in place,” Tanner said. “I had to understand that the role of Canadian Blood Services was to provide all the research for Health Canada to make decisions about changes.”
Some of those tough conversations were with Jake. Fortunately for Tanner, Jake was both willing to listen, and inspired by his partner’s enthusiasm for helping patients.
“I'd go and pick him up from work in our first year of dating, and he gets in the car and he's like, ‘I am helping save lives. That is so amazing’,” Jake said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that is pretty cool.’ He just was so passionate about it.”
Even so, it wasn’t entirely easy for Jake to walk back into the place which he had felt excluded from for years. Ultimately, a deep compassion for patients is what motivated his return to the donor chair. On the big day he was grateful for the support of Tanner and his mother LeeAnne Tuplin — herself a 25-year employee of Canadian Blood Services — and the kindness of donor centre staff.
Looking back, he has nothing but good things to say about the experience.
“It’s very intrinsically rewarding to be able to support somebody else that you've never met in your entire life,” Jake says. “I had quite a few people reach out to me afterwards saying they had to get blood products. I thought, if not for the blood supply, these brilliant, wonderful human beings wouldn't be here.”
While some gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, and some trans women, may still not be eligible to donate blood and plasma, Jake recommends all those who meet the criteria to consider becoming donors.
“I'd say don't wait, just do it now,” Jake suggests. “You'll always find a reason why you can't, why you're too busy, or why it's not the right time. But it just takes one call to do it now.”