Blood donations increasingly inaccessible for LGBTQ+ community

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Canadian Blood Services’ (CBS) screening policies invalidate transgender people’s experience and limit their own pool of potential blood donors.

In September, a transgender man trying to donate blood to CBS was screened as a woman based on the sex he was assigned at birth. Blood Services staff was bound by policy to ask questions such as, “Have you had a pregnancy over the past six months?” and, “Have you slept with a male who has slept with a male?”

While procedurally standard, CBS’ outdated screening standards contribute to trans ‘othering’ and trigger those simply trying to do good in their communities. 

CBS’ website states donors who have not had gender affirming surgery are treated based on their sex at birth, and those who have are deferred from donating blood for one year. But the reasoning behind this isn’t explained or justified.

Members of marginalized communities hoping to donate blood are being shut out of this process because of a lack of research. The agency’s eligibility requirements evolve depending on that research, which is essential to ensure donor and recipient safety.

Trans people hoping to donate blood are doing so voluntarily and for the good of others. CBS needs to recognize that and conduct the research needed to accept as many potential donors as possible.  

Blood donation is a medically sensitive issue—things like pregnancy create antibodies that can cause complications in recipients. HIV transmission is another pertinent health complication. But categorizing trans people under their birth sex is no solution to that problem.

Those biologically sexed as men are deemed “high risk” for transmission, but this is based on regressive social norms assuming their predilection for drug use and unprotected sex. 

CBS already has a tumultuous relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. Gay men can’t donate blood within a year of having sex with a man, nor can women who have had sex with a man who sleeps with men.

It’s relevant to discuss biological differences relevant to blood donation, but it doesn’t have to be gendered to be safe. CBS could minimize this by adjusting their language both amongst staff and in their literature. For instance, forms could ask questions about pregnancy without assuming the gender of the person once pregnant.

LGBTQ+ people should not be publicly shamed for their altruism, and it’s incumbent on CBS to make accommodations that suit the era in which we live: one working to diminish discrimination and stereotyping.

If the agency wants to move forward in their relationship with LGBTQ+ people and make blood donations more accessible, they need to hold themselves to an explicit scientific standard without gendered bias.

CBS needs to acknowledge their historically tense relationship with marginalized communities, and consider how its language and policies alienate potential donors. If not, it risks permanently dictating who can and who cannot donate blood in a time of need.  

—Journal Editorial Board

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