Canada’s new transgender blood donation policy criticized as unfair

Some are calling Canada's new blood donation policy for transgender women discriminatory.

Some are calling Canada's new blood donation policy for transgender women discriminatory. Erin Rook

In Canada, transgender people will face new blood donation policies later this year, but some say the change is discriminatory and just bad science. Currently, blood donations from transgender Canadians are accepted on a case-by-case basis. Starting Aug. 15, the Canadian Blood Service is expected to release donation criteria specific to transgender people.

Officials say crafting a new policy is a way of recognize that transgender people are interested in donating blood—and to acknowledge the higher incidence of HIV among transgender Canadians. More than one in four Canadian trans women are living with HIV, according to the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development.

“This is the first time that we have standardized and put something in our national criteria manual,” Goldman told CBC News. “Previously, [trans] donors could have gotten a different screening outcome if they had gone to a clinic in Vancouver compared to a clinic in Montreal.”

The policy states that transgender people will be screened as the sex they were assigned at birth until one year after having “gender-affirming genital surgery.” This means that transgender women who don’t meet this requirement will be screened as men, and transgender men who haven’t had genital surgery (which is still uncommon) will be screened as men.

In other words, barring surgery or exclusively female partners, trans women will be regarded as if they are men who sleep with men. That means not being able to donate until abstaining from sex with men for one year. And trans men, unless they have genital surgery, will never be regarded as such, no matter who they sleep with.

According to Health Canada, the new policy may allow some transgender people to donate blood who were not permitted before. But only screening as female those who have had surgery is problematic, LGBTQ and reproductive health specialist Dr. Adrian Edgar tells the CBC, because it is unnecessary and may dissuade transgender people from donating.

“I have never seen data that suggests that the sexual anatomy of a person who is trans would have an impact on their HIV, syphilis or their hepatitis status,” he said, adding, “No one is going to go to a facility that refuses to respect and acknowledge their gender identity.”

In addition, gender confirmation surgery is only available at a single clinic in Montreal, and medical coverage for the procedures varies from province to province and is not universally available.

Susan Gapka, a trans woman and chair of the Trans Lobby Group, said she’s put off by the policy and likely would not donate in the future.

“It says that they don’t want my blood,”Gapka told CBC News. “It says that I’m not worthy. It says that I don’t belong, that I am not good enough. It just really builds on that erasure.”

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