US: College fraternity campaigns to raise money for trans brother’s surgery

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The Phi Alpha Tau fraternity at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, has started a campaign to cover the cost of surgery for new member Donnie Collins, who is transgender.

Mr Collins told that he had been paying for hormone therapy out of his own pocket since December 2011, as he was barred from using his mother’s health insurance to cover it.

“I’d go to the endocrinologist and pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket, because, of course, I didn’t have insurance of my own,” he said.

He now has a student health insurance policy following his enrollment at Emerson, a communication and arts college.

However, while several US colleges are starting to include gender reassignment for trans students on their student insurance, Emerson is not one of them.

After pledging to join the Phi Alpha Tau fraternity Mr Collins told his fellow members that he wanted the surgery, which reduces breast tissue, but was unable to pay the $8,000 ($5,300) cost without insurance coverage.

The fraternity set up an Indiegogo fundraiser, ‘Brothers of A Boston Fraternity – FTM: Top Surgery’, when they learnt of Mr Collins’ situation.

At the time of publication it had raised $5,540 (£3,700), beating their original aim of $2,000 (£1,300) to contribute towards the surgery.

“Yesterday we were informed that one of our prospective brothers, a transgender female to male, was denied the opportunity to receive financial support from his insurance for top surgery. We are now trying to raise that money for him,” they stated on their Indiegogo page.

“We as an organization are told from day one to use our resources. You may not know this gentleman like we do, and we might not even know you, but if it speaks to you then we want to present you with an opportunity to give.”

The move is far removed from the widely held image of “frat bros”, who are often portrayed in the media as homophobic and transphobic. The exclusionary nature of the groups, and their tradition of new students having to undergo unpleasant “hazing” rituals, have heightened fraternities’ reputations for being unwelcoming and have resulted in them being banned altogether in some colleges.

Mr Collins, who says he cried with gratitude after learning about the fundraiser, said that he wasn’t surprised that his fraternity had chosen to support him this way, but his non-fraternity friends were.

“I was just like, ‘Oh that’s such a Tau thing to do,’ and I didn’t even think it was that weird,” he said. “But then I started sending [the fundraising link] out to people, and they were like, ‘Oh my god, that’s amazing! See, Greek Life isn’t bad; it’s amazing.”

In 2006, national fraternity Sigma Phi Beta announced it would allow transgender members, breaking new ground in college fraternity inclusivity.