Kody Carlson is a 26-year-old bisexual New Brunswick man studying Social Work at St. Thomas University. This year, his grandfather developed a fatal liver condition, which could be remedied with a donation of a liver from a male relative. Despite appearing to be an ideal candidate, Carlson was barred from donating a portion of his liver due to his sexual history. Health Canada maintains a series of bans which Carlson and many other LGBTQIA+ people and activists feel are discriminatory.
According to Health Canada, a man cannot donate blood for at least a year after their last sexual encounter with another man, and cannot donate organs for at least five years. There is also a lifetime ban on sperm donations. In order for Carlson to donate his liver, he would have to receive an exemption from his grandfather’s physician, after discussing with his grandfather the supposed risks of receiving a transplant from his bisexual grandson.
Carlson, who is already out to his grandfather, declared “it’s unfortunate that in 2017 in Canada, being gay means that when your grandfather is ill, you end up having to discuss your sex life with him.” Carlson gave this statement during a recent interview.
The NB Media Co-op sat down Carlson, who has had significant media coverage of his situation, to discuss some of the themes he feels should have increased media attention. Given that Valentine’s Day was just around the corner, he mentioned the way heteronormative perceptions of gay and queer relationships have affected coverage of his situation: “So much of this has been about sex. It ignores that there’s real love in the gay community, real relationships.”
Carlson believes Health Canada’s bans are based on misconceptions about the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, which tend to attribute blame to the queer community for the spread of the disease to North America. Carlson recommends the book, How to Survive a Plague (2016), by David France, which chronicles the queer community’s response to the AIDS epidemic and presents alternatives to the implicitly homophobic narratives about the origins of the AIDS virus.
Concrete solutions to this situation are not getting enough attention, according to Carlson. In many of his mainstream interviews, journalists have declined to publish his statements about Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug recently approved in 2016 by Health Canada that Carlson believes should be widely available since it can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout the body. Taking PrEP daily can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%, according to the US Center for Disease Control.
Due to the drug’s elevated cost, many people are not able to afford PrEP. Carlson believes that the government of Canada should end the implicit ban on organ donations by gay and bisexual men and instead subsidize the cost of PrEP so that it is widely available to all sexually active Canadians. He calls existing nods to improving the policies “lip service:” “In a couple of months, Health Canada will be reviewing their policies. They’re also calling for more research on the possible transmission of HIV by gay men, however, there’s already been a lot of research done to disprove these homophobic policies and the ideas they engender.”
There are organizations like the Davie Buyer’s Club (based in Vancouver), which help interested people purchase generic versions of PrEP from India, but this involves navigating legal grey areas as the drug must be delivered to the United States and transported across the border.
Carlson believes that if prices for PrEP remain high, the government will have to become involved to guarantee access: “This drug costs a thousand dollars a month. However, if the government were to increase access to this incredible preventative method then we could, effectively, eradicate HIV in a matter years.”
Carlson says he is pessimistic about the Trudeau government making significant changes to its policies, but he says he will continue to bring awareness to his situation and advocate for the ban to be scrapped so he can potentially save his grandfather.
Abram Lutes is a second year student at Renaissance College, also pursuing a double minor in sociology and anthropology at the University of New Brunswick. He is a member of the board of directors of the NB Media Co-op.