andy chitty toronto

Here's why a giant red asterisk just appeared in Toronto

A huge red asterisk just popped up right in the middle of downtown Toronto, but it's not just a cool-looking art installation like some others.

It's also not just the installation itself that carries meaning, but exactly where it's installed.

A big red asterisk has been placed outside a Canadian Blood Services clinic on College St. in Toronto, as a reminder that there are some stipulations to their policies that don't always feel fair to all.

"In 1992, Health Canada implemented a lifetime ban for gay men that prevents these individuals from donating blood. It wasn't until 2013 that this ban was reduced to five years if the man abstained from sex with another man for at least five years," reads artist Andy Chitty's statement on his piece Asterisk.

"In 2019, the ban was reduced again to three months. Today, gay men must abstain from sex with other men for at least three months to qualify as safe blood donors. Asterisk offers an opportunity to bring attention to continuing homophobia in these structural practices." 

The statement goes on to say that though Canadian Blood Services has been proposing new screening criteria that leaves out gender and sexuality, they're still regulated by Public Health Canada, "which continues to promote homophobia by identifying sexually active gay men as ineligible donors."

The bright red sculpture was placed right next to the Canadian Blood Services sign while the asterisk itself draws attention to omissions, appropriate symbolism to represent Chitty's message.

"Asterisk expresses what CBS will not explicitly state: If a gay man has had sex a single time with one male partner in the last three months, he cannot donate blood," reads Chitty's statement.

"In that same time-span, a straight man can have sex with as many different partners as he likes and he is still eligible to donate blood."

The questions "In the last 3 months have you had sex with a man who, in the last 12 months, had sex with another man? (Female)" and "In the last 3 months, have you had sex with a man? (Male)" are still a part of the basic Canadian Blood Services screening questionnaire.

Chitty managed to boldly install this sculpture without permission from CBS.

"I considered asking for permission but I thought about how that changes the dynamic of the project by relying on the authority of the oppressor to permit the conversation that Asterisk is trying to have. Instead, I installed the work rather surreptitiously in the early morning of Tuesday, April 26," Chitty tells blogTO.

"I have not yet received a response from the Canadian Blood Services, and as of yet, it is still standing outside of the CBS sign on College Street. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, and it seems that many who have engaged with the piece were not aware of the homophobia that still exists within the policies of Canadian blood donation services."

Chitty has done other public art installations of an abstract/symbolic nature before, including one in Trinity Bellwoods featuring a clothesline strung with bedsheets spray-painted with the words "Sorry for the inconvenience" (the title of the piece).

If you think this is a brilliant way to draw attention to instances of exclusion and think red asterisks like these belong in a lot more places, you can actually help make that a reality: Chitty is looking to install them "to point to any context that exists beyond what is immediately available."

"Its placement suggests to an observer that there are elements of structural violence and exclusion within an organized body, or institution," reads Chitty's site.

"For example, as consumers, sometimes we are not aware that our favourite fast-food chain donates money to fund anti-LGBTQ+ organizations and practices."

You can even get your very own red asterisks to put up yourself, although they're a bit smaller. You can fill out a form on Chitty's site to get a free small vinyl asterisk with a QR code mailed to you.

"Asterisk as an ongoing project of activism will require the participation of others who wish to speak about their own experiences in oppressive contexts," says Chitty.

"I have received several requests so far for vinyl Asterisks to be sent to individual's addresses so they, too, can participate in this project."

Lead photo by

Andy Chitty

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