I have been donating blood since 2013, and it deeply saddens me to hear that Canadian Blood Services (CBS) will be adopting a complicated new protocol on August 15 with regards to blood donations from trans* people.
Dr. Mindy Goldman from CBS told the CBC that the new protocol “recognize[s] that [trans* people are] a group of Canadians interested in participating in blood donation.” The dark truth, though, is that the new policy is just another way to discriminate against trans* women who’ve undergone gender confirmation surgery by preventing them from donating blood for one year after the procedure.
We’ve been through this kind of thing before, namely with CBS’s former ban on donations from gay men who had had sex within five years. The good news is that CBS has finally smartened up somewhat by lessening the wait period for these men to one year. Still, the donation protocol is nowhere near as practical as it should be.
Having been a registered donor for most of my eligible life, I’m familiar with the tests, warnings, and security questions asked during every donor screening. I completely understand the importance of being careful about donating blood. Dr. Goldman called trans* women a particularly high-risk group, given that an estimated 27.7 percent of Canadian trans* women live with HIV, as the CBC reported.
The policy is being implemented because 30-50 of the over 400,000 registered donors identify as trans*. That’s 0.00125 percent at most, and sure, there may be some more individuals who don’t identify as trans* yet — but that number is still extremely small. Show me the need for a policy impacting a group of people that constitutes a tiny percent of the registered donor population, and I can show you needless and discriminatory rule-making.
The discrimination is aimed at trans* women because of the policy’s focus on gender confirmation surgery. Dr. Adrian Edgar, a trans*, queer, and reproductive health expert, told the CBC there’s no proof that gender confirmation surgery directly affects the safety of trans* people’s blood.
As CBS’s website explains, the organization tests all blood collected for diseases. Since the tests are imperfect, additional precautions are necessary because of “window periods,” which occur after infection but before the current testing can detect the virus.
However, the focus of the policy is on surgery, not sexual relations. It doesn’t seem like the policy is necessary, and the CBS even alludes to this idea on its eligibility requirements webpage, which states that undergoing any type of surgery generally doesn’t impact a person’s ability to donate, just the medical condition that sparked the surgery.
They further clarify that one only needs to be fully recovered and feeling well before donating. If the donor received blood transfusions during the procedure, then they have to wait 12 months before donating (as goes for any blood transfusion services).
In plain language, this suggests that the surgery isn’t the issue, but rather the reason for the surgery is. In other words, the gender confirming surgery isn’t the issue; the trans* identity is. If you don’t think that’s discrimination, then maybe you need to re-evaluate your perspectives on equality.
The new policy reinforces two common feelings within the trans* community: that of not being valued, and of not being seen as part of society. It supports the erasure of trans* identities while hiding behind a fake podium of support and recognition. Shame on you, CBS.