Metro Weekly

Costco Pharmacist Refuses to Sell Syringes to Trans Man

The Costco pharmacist told the customer he had to obtain a prescription from his doctor to use insulin syringes for hormone therapy.

Photo: Tatik22 / Dreamstime

A transgender Kansas City man has accused a pharmacist at his local Costco of refusing to sell him insulin syringes without a prescription after he revealed that he planned to use them to inject testosterone as part of his hormone therapy regimen.

The man, identified by The Kansas City Star as “Dave,” says he visited the Linwood Boulevard Costco on October 9 to pick up packs of 100 syringes, which are cheaper at Costco when bought in bulk compared to other retailers.

Typically, Costco sells the syringes without a prescription. While they’re not solely designated for insulin injections for diabetics, that is generally their most common use.

But Dave had been using the smaller, thinner insulin needles because they made his regular testosterone injections less painful. When he sought out the syringes, initially there seemed to be no problem — until the pharmacist at Costco took issue with how Dave intended to use them.

“They got weird about it,” Dave told the Star. “The pharmacist, I guess, overheard and she came out, and she’s like, ‘This won’t work for testosterone.’ She’s like, ‘Well, we won’t sell it to you unless you have your doctor call it in.'”

Dave called his doctor’s office, but it was closed at the time. He didn’t feel like arguing with the pharmacist about how he’d been purchasing the smaller insulin syringes without a prescription for years, so he decided to leave the store.

An assistant general manager at the Linwood Costco told the Star that he was unaware of the incident and couldn’t comment. A pharmacy employee also declined to comment, saying she and her co-workers are not authorized to speak to the media. 

Dave subsequently called the Missouri Pharmacy Board and was told that syringes only require a prescription if they bear the label “for Rx only,” which the insulin syringes didn’t.

He said he was also told that Missouri gives pharmacists wide latitude over what they choose to dispense, as long as they don’t violate federal nondiscrimination laws.

“Reflecting, I wish I had lied and just said I was diabetic,” Dave told the Star. “Maybe (then) they would have let me buy them.”

The incident is the latest involving pharmacists who have allegedly refused to dispense medical supplies or prescriptions to transgender patients. 

Late last year, five transgender and nonbinary patients reported being denied testosterone prescriptions at Costco’s pharmacy.

Their complaints drew the attention of the city’s LGBTQ Commission, which called on the city to take action, alleging that the denial of prescriptions may have violated the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. Costco denied the allegations.

The city’s Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity Department subsequently launched an investigation, asking the impacted customers to file formal statements about their experiences.

Four months later, in February 2023, the city announced that the investigation had concluded, but did not share any information about the outcome of the case. But one of the transgender patrons who complained told the Star that the complainants weren’t offered any resolution, or contacted regarding the outcome of the investigation.

“The matter was settled to the satisfaction of all parties,” city spokesperson Sherae Honeycutt told the Star about the investigation. But she declined to share any additional details about the decision, even refusing to release any records related to the investigation to the newspaper, citing confidentiality concerns.

Assistant City Manager Melissa Kozakiewicz said the city was unaware that the transgender patients who were denied their prescriptions were not contacted about the resolution or that similar incidents have continued to occur at Costco.

“I don’t believe we have reason to believe there are additional cases to review,” she said. “We try to have eyes and ears everywhere, but can only address what we are aware of.”

Justice Horn, the chair of the city’s LGBTQ Commission, said he intends to discuss the matter with the city council and how to respond to the most recent incident involving denial of service.

“I think the next thing to do is just call for this pharmacist to resign,” he said. “Obviously, systems (of) bureaucracy aren’t helping, and folks are being harmed again… I think we need to change strategies if we’re not getting the outcome we want.

“It’s important that we are ensuring that our non-discrimination ordinance, that turns 30 this year, is not only being addressed but (also) enforced,” Horn added. “We unequivocally stand with those harmed and impacted.”

Denials of service by pharmacists have become increasingly common, especially in cases where health issues coincide with potentially divisive social issues such as LGBTQ rights or abortion. Recently, a Walgreens pharmacist in Bristol, Virginia, was accused of refusing to fill a hormone replacement therapy prescription for an intersex child due to the pharmacist’s personal beliefs. 

In June, a transgender man in Oakland, California, complained on social media that a Walgreens pharmacist had refused to refill his hormone prescription, citing “religious beliefs.”

Last summer, after the Supreme Court overturned the longstanding abortion-rights decision Roe v. Wade, many Walgreens customers complained that some local pharmacists were refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control and even declining to dispense drugs for other conditions if one of the side effects could result in the termination of a pregnancy.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, last year, in Hayward, Wisconsin, a Walgreens cashier allegedly refused to sell condoms to a couple because of his personal religious beliefs. And back in 2018, a transgender woman accused a CVS pharmacist in Arizona of refusing to fill her hormone replacement therapy prescription, arguing that filling the prescription would violate his religious beliefs.

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