Gay Windsor man donated blood for the first time in more than 30 years

·2 min read
Walter Cassidy donated blood on Monday for the first time in 30 years. Canadian Blood Services changed their policy on those who can donate blood, allowing men who have sex with men to donate. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC - image credit)
Walter Cassidy donated blood on Monday for the first time in 30 years. Canadian Blood Services changed their policy on those who can donate blood, allowing men who have sex with men to donate. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC - image credit)

For more than 30 years, Walter Cassidy had been barred from donating blood because he's a gay man.

On Monday, that changed.

The 52-year-old from Windsor, Ont. made the first available appointment after the Canadian Blood Services changed its policy on blood donations. The new policy, which came into effect Sunday, no longer automatically excludes men who have sex with other men, but rather asks everyone about their sexual behaviour.

"It's kind of sad that it took so long," said Cassidy.

Under the previous policy, which was also approved by its regulator, Health Canada, if a man or woman had anal sex with a partner within the last three months, they would not be permitted to donate blood. Statistics show those who do are at a much higher risk of HIV transmission, according to the Canadian Blood Services.

For Cassidy, the policy change means there's now more equity.

As a high school teacher, the new rule brings back old memories when on-campus blood drives took place. Cassidy recalls having to either lie to students about why he wasn't donating blood or tell them the truth about his sexuality.

"I'm still angry about it. It was traumatic for me as an educator," said Cassidy.

Jason Viau/CBC
Jason Viau/CBC

These type of policies that singled out gay men make Cassidy think about the AIDS epidemic and similarities with how people were treated then.

"I was young, but I knew people who died," he said. "It makes me think about that and the horrendous treatment they experienced."

CBC
CBC

As he waited for his appointment to finally donate blood, Cassidy said he was both excited and nervous about this milestone in his life.

Even though it has finally happened, he cautions that things could still change.

"As much that the community fought for these rights, it's easy enough to take them away," Cassidy said. "Just because the government is getting closer, it doesn't mean there are struggles that are not happening. There are still attitudes, especially in the [United] States. There's a lot of pushback to what's happening right now, and it's something that we should always be aware of."

The Canadian Blood Services declined an interview request sent by CBC News, but acknowledges in a statement that "slow pace" of changes to who can donate blood "has been painful and frustrating for many," according to a spokesperson. They said it has taken time to collect data and evidence to submit to Health Canada for approval.