Transgender woman turned away by Canadian Blood Services in Vancouver

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.

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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.)

Comments (31) Add New Comment
Support for CBS
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.
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Forest
It looks as though CBS needs to educate their people.
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Support for Trans people
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.
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Guess what
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.
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Thomas
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.
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Keith
Oh come on. Get over yourself. When did we become a country of winers
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This isn't new, and it isn't just us.
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.
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Sarah Davis
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.
Rating: +67
Lee L
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.

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Jay M.
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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JP
I was told that I couldn't donate because
1. They have to get special consent (which later I was told over the phone that I don't need one)
2. Don't have the surgery yet hence they treated me as Male
which fits their Men with men ban, even though i never had such relationship
(If I've had the surgery then it is ok, even if I have sex with another man because then they'll consider me as female) then they froze my file, but since the phone call it is now open again.
I'm going to try again this weekend and see how it goes.
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Justin
Reading these comments is hilarious and makes me realize what a bunch of whiners society is becoming. Every group just wants to find something to complain about. I mean seriously, who records their blood donation process if they aren't looking for some kind of fight, especially if they have donated blood in the past without incident? Everyone is using the word discrimination far to much here. Could it be that nurses errored on the side of caution? Now this chick wants to go to the BC human rights Tribunal? Give me a break. You really think that's going to make people sympathize with you? Maybe try taking a rational approach to the situation. Get in contact with cbs, find out what the issue was from someone in a high position, and maybe try to work with them. Nah....just run and post all this garbage on the internet to try and get support to make yourself feel good.
I said hello to somebody on the sidewalk the other day and they didn't say it back. It must be because they are discriminating against me because I had just gotten out of my Subaru and they hate The Japanese for what happened in Fukushima and the believe that all the oceans are radioactive wastelands and by driving a Japanese car I am supporting that. I better run straight to the human rights tribunal and have that person punished for hurting my feelings by not saying hello....ridiculous.
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william
I don't recall any question about transgender being on the disqualifying list. However, certain sexual activity can disqualify someone (and is on their list). Possible confounding??
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Chris A
Gee I never knew there were so many narrow-minded, small-minded bigots still around in this day in age.
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Chris N
They probably made a kneejerk assumption based on her gender reassignment that she was having relations with men (As is common in MtF persons). Regardless this isn't a new thing, nor is it news. Also, in before privilege checking and the term "cis_"
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Bill
A proper policy could prevent this issue from flaring up in the future. That being said, people need to suck it up and stop filing human rights complaints about every stupid issue. Discrimination IS a factor in everyday life, and we all deal with it. Get over yourself.
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Amy
This is not a discrimination. Blood donation is not a "right" (as much as a right to receive blood transfusion) and patient safety (integrity of the blood donated) matters more than the vague notion of human rights for some marginal people.

In the United States, the federal Food and Drug Administration sets the national policy on who cannot donate blood, just like FDA sets the policy on pharmaceuticals and medical equipments. Like in Canada, the US does not allow transgenders or homosexual men to donate blood because of the heightened risk factor (FDA believes that gay men and transgender males engage in unsafe activities at a higher statistical probability than ordinary, including unsafe sex and use of drugs, both heighten the likelihood of HIV and STD/STI). Likewise, if you are from the UK or from Ireland (or have ever lived there for more than 6 months) you cannot donate blood in the US, either.

These are not discrimination, but simply a safety measure to minimize risks. The fact of the matter is, blood centre employees cannot screen and go over every single medical details of each prospective donor. They don't have money, time, or resources to do that in the timeframe of 15 to 30 minutes at most, at a mobile van and without qualified MDs on site. So they have to play safe for the public interest of everybody.
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D
Would people feel better if CBS had a policy to take blood from everyone and just toss the ones they don't want so no one gets their feelings hurt?
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Christina
If we trust donors to be honest about where they have been, who they have had sex with and what medications they take and she did not get excluded based on her answers then this is blatant discrimination. Do they not trust her answers because she is mtf transgender? Unless there is a clear policy and justifiable reasons why she was denied then this is a human rights issue because it is unlawful discrimination.
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Bob Bobson
It sounds like this woman has a small case of the homophobias.

She couldn't shout any louder that she was one of the normal straight folk before transitioning and remains married to her now-lesbian wife. How dare the CBS lump her in with the trans people who love men.
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Rating: -6

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