Transgender woman turned away by Canadian Blood Services in Vancouver

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Clayre Sessoms just wanted to donate blood to help others. But the Vancouver resident says Canadian Blood Services turned her away because she is transgender.

Sessoms told the Georgia Straight that the incident left her crying on the street. Now she wants an apology from CBS and is considering filing a human rights complaint.

“I felt terrible,” Sessoms recalled over the phone. “I love to give blood, and I’m here to donate and help people. It helps me feel good. When I come in and you’re basically telling me that I can’t because of my gender identity, that’s just awful.”

According to Sessoms, the incident occurred on Wednesday (May 14), when she went to the CBS clinic on Dunsmuir Street in downtown Vancouver.

After Sessoms disclosed that she is transitioning from male to female and taking estrogen, the nurse screening her asked if she has undergone sex reassignment surgery (she hasn’t). Then the nurse left to consult with a supervisor.

Upon the nurse’s return, Sessoms was told that she couldn’t give blood. Sessoms said the nurse confirmed both that the rejection was due to her gender identity and that CBS doesn’t have a policy on transgender donors. (She later spoke with two other staffers at the clinic, but didn’t get any more answers.)

Sessoms noted that CBS previously allowed her to donate blood in September 2013, before she began transitioning, and in November 2013, when she also disclosed that she was transitioning.

CBS has a ban on donations from men who have had sex with men within the last five years, but Sessoms is a married lesbian.

“It’s awful,” Sessoms said. “There’s no legitimate medical reasons. There’s nothing in their criteria. I didn’t go to Africa, Mexico. I don’t meet anything that would disqualify me, except I identify as transgender.”

Morgane Oger, secretary of the Trans Alliance Society, told the Straight that Sessoms’s experience means that either Canadian Blood Services is practising “institutional” discrimination against transgender donors or its Vancouver employees “overstepped”.

“When you have an arbitrary rule based on who you are, it’s kind of like saying, ‘You can’t donate blood because you’re blonde and we don’t accept that.’ Or, ‘We don’t want Chinese people to do it,’” Oger said by phone.

Oger called on CBS to clarify its position on transgender blood donors.

“If Canadian Blood Services does not say, ‘Transgender people are broken people that we can’t trust,’ then what they should say is, ‘These are the behaviours that we do not feel comfortable with in our blood supply,’” Oger said.

Canadian Blood Services is the nonprofit organization that oversees the blood supply in the country, outside of Québec.

In an email, CBS communications specialist Marc Plante told the Straight that a representative was not available for an interview.

Plante sent a written statement, in which CBS maintains that it does not reject potential donors based "solely on gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation" and that any "transsexual or transgendered individual is screened at our blood donor clinics according to the same standard eligibility criteria we use for all blood donors".

Sessoms, who documented her experience on her blog, wants to make sure that no one else is ever turned away by CBS due to their gender identity.

“They’re losing potentially qualified donors by basically discriminating,” Sessoms said. “We’re already feeling bad enough every place that we go to. It’s not healthy for us to keep hearing, ‘Denied, denied, denied,’ and what we’re being told on the other side is, ‘Be yourself, be yourself, be yourself.’ It just means that we need to fight. We need to fight these kinds of things and say these old, antiquated ways need to stop now.”

(This story was updated on May 16 to add Canadian Blood Services' response to the incident.)

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31 Comments

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Support for CBS

May 15, 2014 at 5:48pm

Canadian Blood Services has every right to discern who they receive blood donations from. They have the health of thousands of future recipients to consider, which should (and does) trump the feelings of an individual with a desire to donate. Pick your battles.

Forest

May 15, 2014 at 6:48pm

It looks as though CBS needs to educate their people.

Support for Trans people

May 15, 2014 at 6:53pm

Support for CBS, the issue is that their discernment of her being unfit to donate wasn't based on anything to do with her health or her blood. She was turned away because of her gender expression, and that means the nurse was being transphobic. Transphobia is not okay.

Guess what

May 15, 2014 at 7:57pm

Get over yourself . The world should not have to revolve around transgendered individuals . That was NOT the issue anyways. I agree with @ Support the CBS.

Thomas

May 15, 2014 at 8:49pm

Every day it's stories about trans people. Is this like the new gay now that gays are normal? How man trans peopl are there anyways.

Keith

May 15, 2014 at 9:29pm

Oh come on. Get over yourself. When did we become a country of winers

This isn't new, and it isn't just us.

May 15, 2014 at 11:25pm

CBS discriminates against many different kinds of people. They screen all the blood that goes through their system, and they sadly continue to use outdated, clueless, panic-based guidelines to inform their decisions about who qualifies. This is true for trans people, former inmates, people from certain supposedly "high risk" countries, lesbian, gay and bisexual people, people with tattoos of a certain age, former or current drug users, former or current sex workers, and so on. Trans people have been denied access to donating blood for a very long time, this isn't new. In our fights to be treated with dignity and to have the same opportunities as others do to contribute, it would be great if we didn't replicate these outdated and ill-informed assumptions and exclusions. It is not OK that many different kinds of people are *profiled* and excluded based in ridiculous and not particularly accurate assumptions about who is "safe/r". As a trans person, I would not actually be pleased to donate blood via CBS, when so many other people who are also assumed to have certain risk factors going on continue to be denied the ability to do so.

Sarah Davis

May 15, 2014 at 11:31pm

If they gave her a reason like "we don't or can't predict how the hormones you're taking could affect the blood you donate etc", then I could understand, but this does seem more like a case of either discrimination, or just a lack of planning by the CBS, which is what I'd worry about more than anything else, as they should have plan after plan after plan in place for everyone's safety. I'd love to be able to give blood, but because of the meds I'm on, it would be no good for anyone involved, and sometimes that makes me feel really guilty that I can't. The CBS need to decide what they're policy is and make it clear.

Lee L

May 15, 2014 at 11:34pm

I think CBS needs to explain the policy that was followed.

Donated blood is a godsend but it is not risk free. Anyone who has ever had HepC for example, can never be considered a low enough risk to donate since it is known that the virus can be present at undetectable levels in those that have been 'cured' of the disease. Since it is now known that poor practice around blood collection actually CAUSED the transmission of HepC to many many people, it is appropriate that CBS and any blood collection organization will decline to accept some people's blood despite the donor's enthusiasm for the cause.

What is implied here is the CBS had no other reason to decline the donation than supposition around gender transitioning donors. I think it would be appropriate to hear a response from CBS about that, with the donor's permission.

Hopefully a story given by a donor is not alone enough to qualify a blood donation. Lab testing for known blood borne pathogens including HIV, HepC, and many others may already be in place but if not, it needs to be.

In the mean time, let's hear what CBS says about the incident before lighting the torches.

Jay M.

May 16, 2014 at 3:01am

I donate blood on a regular basis. I am also a transgender man (F to M), and CBS knows this and that I am testosterone HRT- they've never had an issue with it, so this seems like a pretty clear case of discrimination to me. Also, if I'm not mistaken CBS accepts blood from women who are taking hormonal birth control- taking estrogen for MTF gender reassignment really isn't all that different at all. It's BS but I guess I never get hassled because I look unambiguously male and have male ID. Still BS in this case and I'd love to hear what CBS has to say about it.

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