Fraternity raises money for transgender brother's surgery

Members of Emerson College's Phi Alpha Tau fraternity have come together to collect funds for a brother's gender confirmation procedure that is not covered by the college's health plan.

Frat brothers live together, party together and sometimes study together, and in this case, are uniting to raise funds for a brother in need.

Members of the Phi Alpha Tau fraternity at Emerson College in Boston have banded together to raise more than $15,000 (as of Wednesday morning) to pay for a female-male transgender brother's sex confirmation surgery, BostInno, a Boston news website, reports.

Donnie Collins, 20, who was born female, says he doesn't like to refer to the procedure as a sex-change. The operation he's seeking — a "top surgery" — is similar to a mastectomy. His breast tissue will be removed so his chest will be flat, allowing him to walk around without wearing chest girdles or as many as five layers of clothing.

Collins came out as transgender while living in an all-female dorm at a Connecticut boarding school when he was 17. He told OUT that while his dorm mates at the school were kind, the experience of being placed with a gender he no longer associated with was jarring. Around the same time, he changed his name to Donnie. In 2011, Collins began hormone therapy to transition to a man.

“I was born in a female body, but it just wasn’t me. I lived through a process of figuring out how I could live the life I wanted to,” he told BostInno. “I dressed male, chose a new name, and asked to be called by male pronouns. It was amazing, but a really hard experience.”

Collins told BostInno that his breasts were the last obstacle preventing him from attaining complete comfort in his own body

Just weeks ago, the screenwriting major — then a pledge in the frat — was down in the dumps when he learned that the health insurance he received from Emerson wouldn't pay for his mastectomy surgery, which the health plan considered a cosmetic procedure. Previously, according to OUT, Collins had paid for all endocrinology services and hormone treatments out of his own pocket, because his mother's insurance plan also would not pay for physical transitions.

Learning the cause of their new brother's frustration, Collins' frat mates embarked on a campaign to raise funds for his transition operation. Because it's illegal for the Phi Alpha Tau organization to raise funds for Collins, the Emerson chapter created a page about Collins on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo. While their initial goal was to raise $5,000, which would not have covered all of Collins' medical costs, the Boston fraternity brothers have watched investments skyrocket, far exceeding their expectations. They said they'll donate all money that isn't spent on Collins' procedure to the Jim Collins Foundation, which helps transgender people pay for gender-confirming surgeries.

Collins' friends in Phi Alpha Tau said their campaign is about much more than just paying for his surgery.

"It was a lot more about telling the story,” said Collin's fraternity brother Chuck Bergen-Aragon, who helped spearhead the fundraising campaign. “We are changing one of our brothers' lives."

On YouTube Monday, Collins poured out his gratitude to those who donated to the cause.

"It's a lot, to have so many people that you admire and respect and call your friends. I mean, I don't know what to say because the words 'thank you' doesn't do it anymore," he said.


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