Christin Milloy:

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Canadian Blood Services’ Policy is that Trans Women are Men


Photo of a droplet of blood mixing into water.

Some prefer death over queer blood.

This article was originally published by Ricochet Media.

Transgender People are collateral damage in Canadian Blood Services’ continuing discrimination against gay blood, says the trans community.

Canadian Blood Services’ (CBS) presently maintains a policy of banning blood donations from MSM (“Men who have Sex with Men”), even in the midst of a critical blood shortage, which continues to threaten lives in Canada. However, their position regarding transgender people has remained somewhat unclear.

CBS “relaxed” the lifetime MSM ban into a five-year celibacy requirement in 2013. More recently, they put out a survey through Ipsos Reid to gauge public response to the idea of reducing the ban further, to just one year. Trans people were mentioned in that survey, but one respondent says it was done in a confusing and disrespectful way.

“Gender: Are you a man, a woman, or trans?” recalls Catherine Brockhurst, a trans person living in downtown Toronto. Trans people, she points out, can be men, women, or neither—but they’re not their own separate category. She says the survey required applicants to identify themselves in a way that would force them to choose between invalidating their core gender, or erasing their trans identity. A copy of the survey obtained by Ricochet confirms, trans people were asked to identify themselves by checking a different box than the ones for Woman and Man. “It could have been set up in a more sensible way,” she explains.

I’ve had a personal experience, which confirms that it’s not just their surveys and their policies which openly discriminate and disrespect trans people, but the front-line staff trained by CBS as well.

The last time I went to donate blood was a couple of years ago. They sat my boyfriend and I down, had us fill out forms, and asked us questions (including whether we were sexually active). Everything appeared fine, until the staff person started to examine my health card. “Wait a minute, we can’t take your blood,” she told me, shaking her head. I asked her why. “Because you’re a man,” she said, strangers within earshot.

“No, I’m definitely a woman,” I corrected her.

“Then why does your Health Card say ‘male’ on it?” she questioned, in the tone of voice and with the type of shrug that, in a middle-school setting, would be accompanied by a “Duhhhhh…”

“Misdiagnosis at birth. I’m transgender,” I told her. Like many trans people, I hadn’t been able to change my ID cards, and the “Male” designation on my health card had led her to the faulty conclusion that I was a man in a dress.

Simple little cissexist misunderstandings like this are frustrating, but common. A polite explanation usually clears things up (although it’s still a huge problem that we’re forced to “out” ourselves because of our ID). I expected her to learn from it and move on, but my concern began to mount as I met her skeptical stare.

“You’re considered a man by our policy,” she said as she passed my health card back to me. I couldn’t believe it: They weren’t going to take my blood, because I’m a trans woman in a heterosexual relationship with a cis man. “Hang on,” she told me, disappearing behind one of the curtains into the clinic where my boyfriend had been taken.

In a moment, she re-emerged with my partner, and his attendant technician. “We can’t take his blood either,” she explained to her colleague, “because she’s actually a man.”

In a statement emailed to Ricochet, CBS said “Canadian Blood Services assesses donor eligibility of transgender and transsexual persons… based on their current anatomic sex and in accordance with current donor eligibility criteria, including MSM.” In other words, they judge whether a trans person is a man or a woman based on what surgeries they’ve had.

CBS goes on to confirm they classify pre-operative and non-operative trans women as men, and refers to gender identity as a choice: “While respectful of a transgendered [sic] donor’s choice to self-identify their gender as different from their anatomic sex… Our practice is to screen individuals who have not had surgery going by their anatomic sex at birth.”

Canadian Blood Services falls under federal jurisdiction, so any human rights claim filed against them would be heard by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and be subject to the federal Human Rights Act.

In 2012, MP Randall Garrison introduced bill C-279 which would add gender identity as a protected ground to the Human Rights Act. Right now the bill is stuck in senate committee limbo, but Garrison says the anti-transgender blood policy can still be challenged. “Although if 279 passed, the outcome would be much more clear,” he explains.

Garrison is against the entire MSM ban as a matter of principle: “It’s based on stereotypes. It’s not science or behaviour based,” he explains. That’s why he introduced Motion 516 in June, which recommends that “Health Canada replace the current policy with a science-based policy that protects the integrity of the Canadian blood supply while treating all potential donors with equal dignity and respect.” Garrison wasn’t previously aware that CBS officially discriminates against trans women, but he’s not surprised. “Again, their policies aren’t based on science and behaviour. I appreciate you bringing it to my attention, I plan on writing to them about it,” he says.

It’s unclear how the MSM ban affects trans men. They would be considered ‘women’ by the official policy outlined by CBS, and thus exempt from the anti-gay MSM ban… But trans man and multiple blood donor Maxwell Kent reveals he’s run into problems there as well.

Trans men would be considered ‘women’ by the policy outlined by CBS, and thus exempt from the anti-gay MSM ban… But trans man and multiple blood donor Maxwell Kent reveals he’s run into problems there as well.

“My experience is that it has come down to the individual you speak to and whether or not they consider you a man,” explains Kent (whose sex partners have included men). Max has gone to donate blood on a number of occasions, he says he’s been accepted and turned away. “I’ve had the ‘Men can’t donate if they’ve had intercourse with another man in the past 5 years’ rule cited at me, and I’ve also had someone say ‘nah, it should be fine.'”

While cis men, trans women, and (sometimes) trans men are all banned for sleeping with men, cis women may donate blood freely with no restrictions placed on partners or sex habits. The net result, as experienced by the queer community, is that what CBS calls an MSM ban ends up being enforced as a ban against all queer people (other than cis lesbians). “They don’t go for anything that they interpret as remotely ‘gay,'” says TK, another trans community member.

“In their world, only gay men have risk of HIV,” he says, going on to explain that the exclusion of trans people results from a lack of LGBT awareness. “If they think a person is remotely involved in queer community… they refuse the donation. It’s a backwards policy.”

One Trackback

  1. […] with Canadian Blood Services, in which the ability to donate blood was mostly dependent on the subjective decision of clinic staff, and often saw trans* people of either and / or neither gender […]

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Christin Milloy