Emerson College to Pay for Teen's Transgender Surgery

Donnie Collins, male since prep school, was initially denied sex change op.

ByABC News
March 7, 2013, 12:12 PM

March 7, 2013— -- Donnie Collins, the 19-year-old transgender student whose fraternity had pledged to help with sex change surgery, will get insurance coverage after all, according to Emerson College.

School officials told ABCNews.com that its insurance carrier had agreed to cover so-called "top surgery" or breast removal for Collins, who was born female but has identified as male since prep school.

"After the rejection of his initial request, the college contacted Aetna for clarification -- knowing that transgender benefits have been part of its insurance policy with Aetna since 2006," the college said in a statement.

Last month, Emerson's Phi Alpha Tau, a professional arts fraternity, heard that Collins' insurance would not pay for sex reassignment surgery and launched a campaign to help him out.

The men posted a video on the fundraising site IndieGogo.com and raised $18,000.

Emerson was one of the first colleges in the nation to remove the exclusion of transgender benefits from its policy, according to the college.

"The conversations that followed led to the discovery that the policy language had inadvertently not been updated by Aetna on their internal documents," its statement said. "This inaccuracy led to the rejection of coverage."

Collins' reaction, first reported by Mother Jones and posted in a video on YouTube, was, "It's been a really incredible experience...I honestly couldn't be happier with the way things are turning out."

With the new insurance clarification, Collins will still be responsible for his co-pay, travel and care expenses, which total about $2,000.

He said on his blog that he will contribute the balance of donations to the Jim Collins Foundation (no relation), a nonprofit that helps pay for sex resassignment surgeries for those who are transgender.

Collins was in a transgender youth group during high school led by the organization's co-founder Tony Ferraiolo, and he credits it for providing support at a critical time.

Ferraiolo said that he was "incredibly proud of Donnie for overcoming the obstacles in his life, becoming the man he is today, for inspiring people to take on a cause that is larger than him, and giving back to the community in this way."

Collins, a visual and media arts major at the liberal arts college, is from Alexandria, Va. He came out as a high school student living in an all-girl dormitory at a prestigious boarding school in Windsor, Conn.

The first step in Collins' gender transition was hormone therapy, but his mother's insurance policy did not cover the cost. Since 2011, he has paid out hundreds of dollars on his own.

Aetna has also agreed to pay for the hormone therapy, according to Mother Jones.

Emerson officials also said that Aetna has updated its internal documentation that caused the error.

"Diversity and inclusion are a priority for the college, and we continuously strive to be a place that encourages open hearts and open minds," said the college statement.