Ten years ago, we co-founded the Jim Collins Foundation with a vision that we could help save lives with a simple mission – help trans people get the surgeries they need.
No one else was doing it. Some organizations were supporting access to hormones, but trans people were on their own if they needed gender-affirming surgeries. Not every trans person needs surgery, but for those who do, it can be life-saving. In 2008, the same year the IRS granted our nonprofit status, the American Medical Association issued a resolution calling upon public and private insurance companies to remove discriminatory exclusions to this type of medically necessary health care. Yet, to this day, most plans still contain such exclusions, making it a distant dream for trans people to get the health care they require unless they have the financial means.
We knew from personal experience how life-changing surgeries can be, and we believe you shouldn’t have to have money to feel this way. Failure was not an option.
As we started telling people that we were stepping off the board to make way for new leadership, many have thanked us, recognizing: “You guys were there when there was nothing else.” Though progress has been made, the need is still very great. In sharing the JCF story, we hope that more people will be inspired to be a part of this movement.
Don’t Do It – You’ll Give People Hope!
We were told it couldn’t be done. Surgery is the most difficult subject to talk about and is extremely expensive, costing anywhere from 7K-90K. There was no model for providing grants like this.
We were told it shouldn’t be done. Our community is in such desperate need, we can’t help everyone, and we were warned: “You’re going to give a lot of people hope.” Our response…. Well, yeah!
As JCF celebrates ten years, we are going strong. We have given grants to 20 grant recipients. And year after year, the feedback we’ve received from applicants is that just knowing JCF exists has helped them. It turns out that hope is exactly what our community wants and needs.
A Community Effort
Then there were the people who said yes, it can be done, it must be done, let me help you. Jim Collins Foundation was made possible by those of you who gave us advice, referred us to valuable resources, and donated small and large amounts to get us started. JCF is run by an all-volunteer board of directors and supported each year by anonymous trans people from around the country who agree to serve as our selection committee to review the applications and make the difficult decision to choose grant recipients.
In our first year, we took a road trip and met with surgeons serving our community to ask them if they would provide pro bono services, and some said yes! This generally did not cover all costs, but significantly reduced expenses and allowed us to offer grants to more people.
The foundation was named after Jim Collins, a social worker and therapist who was an avid supporter and ally to the transgender community, advocating for the right of all people to live their lives with honesty and passion. He was a powerful influence in Tony’s life, and we have aimed to honor Jim’s legacy by taking that message out into the world. We couldn’t do this without allies like him.
We are so proud of what we have been able to accomplish, and we celebrate the success of Jim Collins Foundation in many ways:
- Grants Awarded – JCF has awarded an incredible 20 grants to trans women and men from diverse backgrounds. We have increased the number of grants we give out annually, and are leaving JCF in solid financial shape for the next grant cycle.
- Advocacy and Impact – We have helped shape the dialogue on this issue, raising awareness of the health disparities trans people face and the challenges trans people face in getting coverage. We have helped people tell their stories of how getting this health care can save lives. We have served as advocates on this issue at conferences, in the media, and at philanthropy tables working to increase funding for trans rights. Most importantly, we have helped trans people feel deserving of getting the health care they need.
- Community – JCF has united trans people and our allies to do this work. Our fundraisers throughout the country have brought people together to organize around trans health. More people want to contribute their time through board leadership. We have received generous donations from people running their own fundraisers to benefit JCF, and people have left their legacies to the trans community through us.
- Trans Leadership – It has been important from the beginning that our hard, emotional decisions about how to distribute funds are made by trans people who understand the significance of this work. We are honored that JCF has attracted such impressive board talent, including our current board and future leadership. JCF remains one of the few trans-founded and trans-led organizations in existence.
The Road Ahead
Our biggest challenge has always been funding. Year to year, we can only give out what’s in the bank, our funds comprised of individual donations. What could happen if JCF was to receive multi-year support from a foundation? Until transition-related health care is covered by insurance and is covered for trans people who need it, our work is not done.
The Jim Collins Foundation has given us purpose and has been such an enormous part of our lives for the last ten years. We could never have imagined all we would be able to accomplish, and we are so grateful to the trans community and our allies that have made this possible.
To those in our trans community who are struggling: “We see you, we hear you, you are not alone.”