After Virginia Blood Services donation controversy, RVA transman donates blood with Red Cross
After being turned away from a state-wide blood donation group, one local transman found an alternative donation spot in a national organization.
31-year-old Richmond resident Theodore Kahn walked into Virginia Blood Services Emerywood (VBS) facility late last month like he had done many times before.
“I donate because anyone can need blood at any time, and there’s never enough,” he said. “I remember my parents donating all the time as a kid because the have uncommon blood types, and it instilled in me that donating was very important.”
To that effect, Kahn, has donated almost once a year for the last 10 years with out issue, even after he had started hormone therapy in 2013.
But now he’d returned to VBS with a new name, and like so many transfolks he made a point to have his paperwork updated.
The screener he was working with agreed but wasn’t sure how to process a name change. That lead to a phone call to their medical help line where Kahn was asked how far along he was in his transition and then told he wasn’t able to donate blood.
“They said I’d never be able to donate blood every again,” Kahn recalled, “Because I have started transitioning.”
Kahn was shocked and confused and he wasn’t alone – even the screener he was working with said they’d never seen someone turned away for being trans before.
“They were very apologetic to me… they even thought it was discriminatory,” he said. The employees handed him the contact for donor relations but they called him before he even made it back home.
According to Kahn, they apologized and said they were working to create a policy for people who had donated in the past. And the reason transgender people were deferred from donation was the link between HIV/AIDS and the community. They also said the policy was new.
While the FDA’s ban on blood donation for gay men or men who have sex with men (MSM) has been documented extensively, there is no official blood donation policy for trans and what currently exists is considered a “non-binding recommendation” by the FDA which allows individual donation centers to make that decision.
Kahn told his story to WTVR which reached out to VBS for comment. Michelle Westbay, spokesperson for the private non-profit group, defended their ban saying “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.”
“Historically, as an industry, we have erred on the side of patient safety,” she wrote. “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.”
Kahn saw an outpouring of support after his story went live. He also didn’t give up on his desire to donate blood. So he reached out to the Red Cross Donation Center in VA Beach while he was down there for work a week later.
He confirmed he could donate blood there and shortly played his part in increasing the pool of available B positive.
“I felt much better about my donation,” he said, noting not only did they allow him to donate, the person screening him had trans-specific information waiting for him when he arrived.
And his story has reignited his passion for blood donation – he plans to work with local spots to try and get more trans folks to donate in the future.
Stayed tuned to GayRVA when those details are released.
While we are all different, there are parts of our identities, our shared experiences, that make us all the same.September 21, 2016
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