Would-be blood donor claims he was turned away because of gender identity

(WRIC)
(WRIC)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – A Richmond, Virginia man says he was turned away from donating blood to Virginia Blood Services after staffers learned he’s transgender.

“I have to fight just to exist every day,” said Theodore Kahn. “I shouldn’t have to fight to help my community.”

Kahn said he donates at least once a year, but on Tuesday he was stopped from giving blood during a visit to the Emorywood donor center.  He was filling out paperwork when he asked to update his name on record to reflect his medical transition.

Unsure of how to handle the gendered name change, a supervisor told the screening staffer to call a medical helpline.

“The person on the phone told me I was on a permanent deferment and I couldn’t donate ever again,” Kahn told 8News. “They literally based my deferment on the fact that I changed my name from a male name to a female name.”

Kahn said the deferment wrongly places him in a high-risk category for HIV, despite an infection rate of 3 percent or lower among transgender men, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Virginia Blood Services maintains that transgender people have an overall higher risk of infection.

We understand and applaud your desire to actively support the community through blood donation. Our role is to protect the safety of the blood supply by establishing policies based on the most current public health data. We understand that the data currently available is not perfect, and we constantly reevaluate new data when it becomes available.  However, until that data is available, we can only rely on the data we have which suggests that there is a greater risk for HIV infection in the transgender population than even other groups already deferred for risk.

Additionally, there are associated transfusion challenges associated with products collected from individuals undergoing high dose hormone therapy.  Historically, as an industry, we have erred on the side of patient safety. We strive to be completely transparent in our policies so that our community understands why we take the precautions we do. The support and engagement of the transgender community is appreciated as we strive to support all of the communities that we serve.  These policies are not meant to hurt anyone, but ultimately to ensure that we have the safest blood supply available for everyone.  Our goal is to prevent any patient who requires blood from acquiring an infection from a transfusion. We ask all of the citizens in our community to continue to support us in that endeavor.

-Michelle Westbay, Virginia Blood Services

Kahn argued that donor eligibility should not be based on gender identity.

“It should be based on sexual history, IV drug use and unprotected sex, just like everybody else. Those questions are already asked,” he said.

The U.S. Food & Drug administration, which mandates the questionnaire at donation centers,
recommends that transgender donors self-identify their gender on all paperwork.

“I want to make sure people know about this so they don’t have to go through a really awkward and unprofessional situation,” said Kahn.

When asked what his next steps are, he said he is unsure, telling 8News he is limited in options because transgender people are not a protected class in the state of Virginia.

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