Unnecessary barriers prevent blood donations for Canadian Blood Services

Canadian Blood Services spends a great amount of time and marketing on informing the public of the need for donated blood. As per their website, there are only two blood types (AB+ & AB-) that are in sufficient supply. The need to donate blood is a crucial one that can help in saving many lives.

The criteria of eligibility for donating blood has been a long contested and publicly debated issue, as discriminatory policies long limited gay men from participating in donation. The qualifiers for this exclusion have changed, albeit not greatly, but the language used, as of August 15, 2016, specified “men who have sex with men are eligible to donate blood if they have not had sexual contact with a man for at least one year.”

It was this time in 2016 that the eligibility requirements for transgender people were changed as well. The Canadian Blood Services website indicates that these newly formed requirements were put into place in order to create a national, standardized criteria for those wishing to donate blood who also identify as trans. These restrictions, CBS claims, will also reduce the uncertainty that transgender people may face when attempting to donate blood, whether by the staff misidentifying them or facing any confusion regarding the process of donation.

Underlining their main goal as the provision of the safest possible blood transfusion to recipients, Canadian Blood Services has put into place a donor criterion that specifically states that a donor will be screened based on whether or not they have had “lower gender affirming surgery.” The assumption being made is that these rules will quantifiably determine the sex of the donor, which is problematic, especially for those who identify as transgender.

The Muse spoke with long-term blood donor Dane Woodland about his recent experience at the Canadian Blood Services. Woodland, a transgender man, kept his distance from the Canadian Blood Services after coming out, as the company’s history with eligibility has not been easy for those who identify as LGBTQ. Woodland was contacted by CBS, by phone, after having not donated in some time when he informed the company that he had transitioned to male and would need to alter his donor card. In 2015 when Woodland spoke with the CBS about this, he was met with a rather upsetting reaction. The representative continued to address Woodland by his birth name as it appeared on the original donor card and refused to use the proper male pronouns. Directed to speak to his doctor regarding the paperwork required for donation of blood under doctor’s care, Woodland was then informed another concerning requirement; he would be able to donate blood once his transition was “complete”. This, as he inquired, came down to the ‘bottom surgery’ that the Canadian Blood Services determines deems a gender transition to be complete. As Woodland said, “it is not always the case for those who are transitioning. The ‘bottom’ surgery to re-assign one’s genitalia was referred to repeatedly by the CBS representative as an “alignment” surgery. When told his gender would be indicated as female on his donor card, Woodland said, “that’s not really what I’m looking for. Not all women have vaginas, not all men have penises. I understand screening someone on the basis of their organs, but I don’t know why my card has to refer to me as a woman.”

The implication of using labelling such as “alignment surgery” is troubling. It implies that the person who has not, or will not have the surgery to change their genitals, is somehow ‘out of alignment’ or in need of some adjustment in order to be completely considered the gender of which they identify, says Woodland.

The implication behind insisting that one who identifies as male be referred to as female is offensive, troubling and disregards many of the positive, cultural steps and attitudes that have been hard fought for in recent years. Attitudes that qualify a person’s gender based on their genital makeup are dangerous and misinformed, and there are real, human-felt consequences. Woodland said, “it’s very hurtful for me to have tried to establish myself a certain way and then to come in here (Canadian Blood Services) and be invalidated especially when I am trying to do something to help…”

Woodland questioned our culture’s “constant need to gender – application forms, signing up for a membership (etc.) – why do you need to know what my genitals are for that?”

Woodland says that education is essential; transphobic attitudes are still rampant today and the combat against them is active education.

The CBS seems to insist that these types of policies are in place to protect the safety of the blood they collect, but without donors, they need not to worry about any blood in their banks. The need for blood is not decreasing, but rather becoming a larger need for our country. Canadian Blood Services, with this out-of-date policy, is making it more difficult for people to participate in donation says Woodland.

These governing policies eliminate the eligibility of many willing donors. The insistence that these policies rely on health and wellness is an important facet of donation, but not with disregard to the personal effects on the donors themselves.

As CBS identifies, the concern lies within the antibodies of the blood/plasma of females who may have been pregnant in the past. This understandable scientific concern is addressed through these policies, which are framed in a way that may be detrimental to the trans community and the community of donors as a whole.

Woodland says that transphobic attitudes are still prevalent and issues of identification are important to consider. The National Center for Transgender Equality said, “contrary to popular belief, there is not one surgery; in fact there are many different surgeries. These surgeries are medically necessary for some people, however not all people want, need, or can have surgery as part of their transition.” Continuing education, recertification in the healthcare field, spreading awareness and prioritizing these issues are what may have a beneficial influence on the policies and procedures that impact our communities.
When a corporation responsible for such an important task as the safe collection of blood in our society creates policies that are out-dated, restrictive and negligent, Woodland says that it is essential for them to be held accountable.

For more information on Transgender Equality visit http://www.transequality.org. For more information on Canadian Blood Services visit https://blood.ca/en/eligibility-criteria-trans.