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.)