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.

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