Maybe you’ve heard about the incredible story of Donnie Collins and his fraternity brothers at Emerson College’s Phi Alpha Tau. Collins, a trans man, was denied (as most of us are) insurance coverage for top surgery and needed several thousand dollars. His brothers jumped into action, mounting an Indiegogo campaign to help him raise the missing funds, and got a whole lot of attention in the process.
As an alumnus of Emerson myself, I know that the culture there has always been extremely LGBT-friendly. But as a trans man, seeing a bunch of fraternity dudes publically advocate for Collins to align his body and heart is next-level heartwarming. What can we all learn from this fraternity? I spoke to Phi Alpha Tau’s president, Jon Allen, and treasurer, Christian Bergren-Aragon, about brotherly love and being better men.
BuzzFeed: I think people are excited because there’s something really healing about the idea of a fraternity being so supportive of another trans man. When did Donnie first reveal his trans status to you guys, and what was the original reaction from the brothers?
Christian: He told his pledge class that he was transgender about three days into the process. The brotherhood already knew that information, but it wasn’t something that we considered when we decided that we wanted him to rush and pledge our organization because, for us, that wasn’t important, because he self-identifies as a male — that’s what’s most important to us.
BF: You said that all that’s important is that people self-identify as male. Is Donnie your first trans member? How long has that policy been in place?
Jon: I actually pledged with another transgender member of our fraternity my freshman year, which was two years ago, so Donnie isn’t the only trans member of our fraternity, actually. So it wasn’t something that was completely different or very strange in our minds. We recognize Donnie as a male, and we recognize our other trans brother as male, as well.
BF: You guys say in that fundraising video that you wanted to get the story out there. You wanted a bunch of people to see the video. What part of Donnie’s story, or the story in general, do you feel is most important for people to know about?
Christian: It’s a story about transformation, it’s a story about self-discovery, and it’s a story about brotherhood — the idea that individuals can support one another when they can’t support themselves. Obviously, when he found out that the insurance wasn’t going to cover the $4,800, he was pledging our fraternity and didn’t have enough time to focus on both things at once — and we did. So we stepped up and were able to support him in a time of need. I think that really speaks to what we are as an organization, and for the first time in a while, we had an opportunity to really show what we stood for. At the end of the day, it’s about being a brother and about being able to be there for someone not only academically and socially, but also financially, and just as a support system.
BF: How do you feel about the media coverage you guys have received over this in the last few days?
Christian: The word I’ve been using is “overwhelmed.” We never expected something like this to blow up so much, because it was really a lot of groundwork. We never tried to create a social media campaign; we just wanted to talk to people and present them with a possibility to donate. And the fact that it’s actually caught on, and that people all around the world are donating — we have 36,000 views on our YouTube page, we have over $16,000 raised and counting — it’s crazy.
BF: For other men — especially men who aren’t trans, and especially men who are involved in sports and fraternities and these more traditionally macho spaces — how can they be better allies to trans men?
Jon: Just treat him like a regular person or as a brother, if they are his fraternity brothers — or how they’d treat anyone else. I don’t see Donnie differently than how I see any other of my brothers, and I think he respects that. And that’s what makes us brothers, and that’s what makes our relationship so special. So I think just treating the person with respect and love.