One of the most pressing medical needs for some transgender and transsexual people is the need for surgical intervention that helps confirm their gender identity. The Jim Collins Foundation was started to provide grants to trans people for this purpose.
"The need is immense," said Tony Ferraiolo, co-founder of the organization and a transgender youth advocate. "Many transgender people are not able to access the health care that they need, and this can lead to extremely unfortunate circumstances. These surgeries are life-saving."
I agree that they are life-saving, because some transgender people attempt suicide when they are unable to access surgical care. Others who can't access surgical care have their lives negatively affected in very serious ways. Some people feel continual anxiety, find going out of the house difficult, or find themselves subject to ridicule or assault. The world of romance and partnership is also made well-nigh impossible. Since the culture considers our lives a ridiculous joke, the idea of providing appropriate health-care if you aren't rich is dismissed with a laugh. This is where the Jim Collins Foundation comes in.
The Foundation has announced its latest grantees.
The Jim Collins Foundation is a non-profit, all volunteer organization whose mission is to provide financial assistance to transgender people for gender-confirming surgeries. Founded by two transgender people in 2008, the organization operates on individual donations and is run by a board comprised of medical professionals, attorneys, and activists. Last year, the Jim Collins Foundation gave away its first grant to Drew Lodi, a transgender man on Medicaid who resorted to collecting cans towards his surgery expense.
"Not every transgender person needs surgery as part of their transition," says Dru Levasseur, co-founder of the Jim Collins Foundation and national transgender rights attorney for Lambda Legal. "However, we've seen first-hand the significant harms that transgender people face when they cannot access treatments that their doctors deemed medically necessary. The Jim Collins Foundation is proud to provide some assistance to people who face discriminatory barriers to coverage in public and private health insurance."
This past year, the foundation received over 300 applications, many from people who were desperate for assistance. A nation-wide selection committee comprised of anonymous transgender individuals chose the 2012 grantees based on financial need. Thanks to the generous donation of pro bono services from Dr. Christine McGinn at the Papillon Center in New Hope, Pennsylvania the foundation is able to fund two surgeries this year. Dr. McGinn is one of the nation's leading surgeons specializing in gender-confirming surgery and an out transgender person herself. She has been featured on the Anderson Cooper show and will be highlighted on the Dr. Oz Show on March 29th.
"I believe in what the Jim Collins Foundation is doing," said Dr. McGinn "I have been waiting for the right organization to collaborate with to give back to my community in this way, and I am happy to donate my services to a foundation and cause such as this."
One grant recipient, Aramentha Jones, lives in government-subsidized housing in New York City and survives on food stamps. In 2010, she joined Americorps to assist survivors of the earthquake in Haiti apply for temporary protected status in the United States. "Even though I knew this job choice would affect the savings I had accumulated towards surgery, I could not miss the opportunity to help my people in a time of such great need." Aramentha is now a full-time graduate student pursuing a degree in social work and working part-time. "Surgery will not undo the wounds of the past, nor will it erase the resentful looks and cruel comments I endured during the early stages of my transition. However, it will help me face the future with a new sense of hope," says Aramentha "It will not solve everything, but it will give me the confidence to pursue my professional and personal goals, knowing that I am finally liberated from the cell I have inhabited since my birth."
The second grant recipient, Nick Lawrence of California, faced a financial crisis when he and his wife of eighteen years were laid off of their jobs and their adopted daughter experienced a medical crisis. After two and a half years of unemployment and applying for over two hundred jobs with no luck, he started his own business, but struggled to make ends meet. Faced with a mound of debt, he has no way to pay for surgery without assistance. "I am usually the one giving money, support, time, care and attention to those less fortunate than me," say Lawrence. "But, I am now at the point where I need some help, some strength from others to help me get through this time of challenge. Once I am on my feet, I will continue to help those who need.
The Jim Collins Foundation operates on individual donations. To learn more about our grant recipients and to make a donation, please visit jimcollinsfoundation.org.