Transgender man told he’s “higher risk” for plasma donation

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STILLWATER, Okla. -- A transgender man at Oklahoma State University says he was turned away from a Stillwater plasma clinic because he was at a "higher risk for more dangerous behaviors."

Lucas Hart was born a female but identifies as a male.  He's received testosterone shots as part of his gender identity transition.

"I mean, they're not afraid that I'm going to go bungee jumping, because that's not going to affect my blood," Hart told NewsChannel 4. "Logically, all that I could conclude is that I was going to do drugs because I was trans, which is kinda offensive, or that I was going to have a lot of unsafe, unprotected gay sex."

Hart says getting turned away from BPL Plasma is the second time he's been rejected by donation clinics.

In June, he told the Red Cross about his sexual identity, and was asked two sets of questions -- one for males and another for females.  He was able to donate that day, but received a letter in the mail shortly thereafter, informing him he had been "indefinitely deferred" from donating again.

"[I feel] like I never should have been put on that list in the first place," said Hart. "It felt really trans-phobic."

"For people who say, 'oh we have a blood shortage, we need all the people to donate that we can,' well there are so many gay, trans people that want to donate, that want to help, that don't have any (sexually transmitted infections), and they can't," he said.

Hart says his doctor gave him permission to donate and he's disappointed the clinics have told him otherwise.

Troy Stevenson, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, says Hart's situation makes him angry.

"This is a very healthy person who has blood that is needed by so many donors and yet he's being denied because of bias and discrimination," said Stevenson. "It's just ridiculous that we'd rather have people die and suffer than to allow healthy people to donate blood."

The root of the problem, Stevenson said, is a policy written by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which sets the guidelines for blood and plasma donations for a number of clinics.

The policy forbids donations from men who have had sex with other men since 1977, which an FDA website cites as the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States.  According to the FDA: [These men], as a group, are at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion.

"It's an old, discriminatory policy," said Stevenson. "It's outdated. It's unnecessary and it's been proven time and time again that the LGBTQ community is no more at risk than anyone else."

"The fact that we have to answer these questions is based on bias and discrimination that somehow the blood of LGBTQ individuals is tainted, and that's untrue," he said.

Things can get murky and confusing when it comes to transgender individuals.

Sharon Queen, a transgender member of the Tulsa-based Oklahomans for Equality, says at his blood drives, he is required to ask transgender women (born as men) if they have ever had sex with a man since 1977.  Transgender men (born as women) must be asked if they have ever had sex with a man who has had sex with another man since 1977.

BPL Plasma does not mention anything sex-related on its list of factors that make donors ineligible.

Lucas Hart says that he hasn't had sex with a man who has had sex with another man and he's frustrated by what he calls stereotypes and discrimination.

"Not every gay person has AIDS," he said. "Not every gay person has an STI. The straight community as a whole, like I said, is less tested and probably more infected than the gay community and they receive no penalty and it's not fair. It's laws that are old and need to be changed."

There is a proposal on the table to change the FDA policy -- only deferring men who have had sex with men in the last year.

On its website, the Red Cross says it "support[s] the use of rational, scientifically-based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among donors who engage in similar risk activities. We will continue to work through the AABB (American Association of Blood Banks) to press for donor deferral policies that are fair and consistent and based on scientific evidence, while still protecting patients from potential harm."

And as far as Lucas Hart's case goes, the Red Cross is apologizing if it wrongly deferred him and caused him discomfort.

“The American Red Cross believes all potential blood donors should be treated with fairness, equality and respect, regardless of gender, age or lifestyle," spokesperson Jan Hale said in a statement. "We apologize if the donor felt uncomfortable during the donation process and have reached out to the donor directly. We are reviewing this particular situation to determine whether the donor is eligible to donate. If we determine that the donor was deferred in error, we will reinstate the donor."

The Red Cross notes on its website, it must follow the FDA's guidelines, which state a transgender donor's original (biological/natal) gender is the gender of record -- which determines which set of questions prospective donors must answer.

"The Red Cross and other members of the AABB have asked the FDA to address the issue of gender change in blood donors," Hale said in a statement.

NewsChannel 4 was referred to BPL plasma clinic's corporate office, which did not immediately respond to repeated requests for comment.

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