MONTREAL -- Héma-Québec, in an effort to find and study sought-after COVID-19 antibodies, has begun collecting plasma from people who have recovered from the virus.

But a Montreal man says his plasma was rejected because he’s gay, and he wants Héma-Québec to change that policy.

“It’s archaic,” said Adam Capriolo. “It’s a homophobic response to the HIV-AIDS pandemic... And right now, more than ever, it’s not the time.”

Antibodies from people who have already had the virus, found in their plasma, could help in treating new patients who are severely ill.

Capriolo caught the novel coronavirus in late March and suffered flu-like symptoms. Over a month after he had recovered, he offered to join Héma-Québec’s new blood study, hoping to help save lives.

But he was told he’d been rejected because he had had “homosexual encounters,” he says.

Héma-Québec has changed its standard several times over the years when it comes to whether, and when, it allows gay men to donate blood. The blood collection agency says it’s working to make the policy more inclusive.

“We’ve gone from a lifetime deferral to a three-month deferral, and there has been…no impact to the risk to recipients,” said Dr. Marc Germain, a vice president at Héma-Québec. 

“The next step will be to identify behaviours among men having sex with men that can still be acceptable in the context of blood donation,” he said.

Germain says these kinds of studies are underway and will allow the group to collect data on “low-risk” sexual behaviour. But gay rights advocates say that data already exists.

“These studies have been going on since 2018—we have the data,” said Gary Lacasse of the Canadian AIDS Society. “Let’s just move the dial.”

Lacasse also said he was shocked when he read how Héma-Québec’s reacted to Capriolo’s criticism.

When Capriolo posted about being rejected on social media, Héma-Québec responded that while they change the policy, “the best way to help right now is not by spreading hate.”

“I was aghast when I read the Instagram posts,” said Lacasse. “If somebody is creating hate it was Héma-Québec in their response to Adam.”

Héma-Québec says they’re sorry about that exchange. 

“I didn’t see in the posting from that gentleman any hint of hate towards anyone,” said Germain. “I really apologize in the name of Héma-Québec. I don’t think the response was appropriate.”

Capriolo has launched a petition to get the blood donation standards for gay men changed.