Frat Brothers Raise $15,000 for Transgender Pledge’s Surgery

Laura Gottesdiener, AlterNet

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

A troupe of fraternity brothers at Emerson College outside Boston have become the darlings of the Internet this week, as the story of the efforts to raise money for a transgendered brother’s surgery goes viral.

Members of the fraternity Phi Alpha Tau are raising money for sexual reassignment surgery for Donnie Collins, whose health insurance through the college won’t pay for his chest surgery. Collins came out as transgender at 17, and has since been taking hormones and trying to raise enough money for sexual reassignment surgery.

He began rushing Phi Alpha Tau this year — a pretty brave feat to begin with, given the reputation that frat brothers are insensitive (to say the least) to issues of sexuality and gender. But there’s no stereotyping this class of brothers at Phi Alpha Tau at Emerson, who not only embraced Collins, but launched a campaign to secure enough money for him to have the desired surgery.

With more than $15,000 already raised, they’ve well surpassed the low benchmark they set for the Indiegogo campaign.

The video itself is a microcosm of the beautiful contradictions in this story. Created by three baby-faced fraternity brothers, they begin and end the minute-long interview sounding, well, exactly like you might expect frat brothers to sound. Hey guys!” they exclaim in the opening. Peeeeeace!” they drawl as a final salute.

But in between these Animal House-isms, their words convey a deep sense of understanding and respect for the challenges faced by their fellow fraternity brother.

We’re looking to tell a story more than raise money,” one explains. So have conversations about our family and friends. Sit down and talk about issues like this.”

Since the story began circulating, some have objected that Phi Alpha Tau isn’t exactly a frat, per se, since its members gravitate towards drama clubs rather than the football team. But honestly, who cares? The point of fraternities is to organize young men to support each other and, ideally, contribute to society – a mission that is obscured by the beer-can-crushing reputation. If it takes some skinny, aspiring actors to project a positive image of the fraternal order, then so be it.

College health insurance rarely covers gender reassignment surgery, although some of the nation’s most expensive universities have begun to offer select coverage. According to the New York Times, there are 36 colleges that offer some type of insurance coverage for surgeries, with more offering hormonal treatments. Even more have begun to reorganize their campuses to respond to a student body that increasingly sees gender identities as fluid. From allowing students to change their names to having gender-neutral dorms and bathrooms, the structure of the university is beginning to catch up with the realities of this new generation of students.

But most administrations, such as Emerson, still fall short, necessitating the continued activism and organizing of student groups. Now, at least one fraternity has come out as a surprising but eager ally in this cause.

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Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist and activist in New York City.
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